Capsule Review: Pet Sematary: Bloodlines (2023)

At one point in Paramount+’s Pet Sematary: Bloodlines prequel to the 2019 film (itself a reboot of the 1989 original), there’s a voiceover saying: “But believe me when I say… Sometimes, dead is better. Stay the f— out of Ludlow.” I just want to say the same thing for this sorry excuse of a prequel.

But first, here’s what Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is all about: The story takes us back to 1969 in the (fictional) sleepy town of Ludlow, Maine. Jud Crandall (Jackson White) has been looking forward to getting out of his hometown with his girlfriend Norma (Natalie Alyn Lind) by joining the Peace Corps in Michigan.

However, on the day they hit the road, a bird suddenly landed right towards Jud’s windshield, forcing him to stop his car. Then, they encounter a bloodied dog belonging to Bill (David Duchovny) and his son Timmy (Jack Mulhern). The latter used to be Jud’s childhood friend until he got drafted into the Vietnam War.

From there, things get worse with the dog ends up attacking Norma and Jud finds out Timmy already returned home from war. With Norma in the hospital, Jud has no choice but to postpone the trip to Michigan. Timmy, however, looks different and even behaves strangely ever since he’s back home.

The name Jud Crandall is, of course, the wise old neighbour harbouring a dark secret. He was first introduced in Stephen King’s 1983 novel Pet Sematary before Fred Gwynne and John Lithgow played the role in the 1989 film adaptation and 2019 reboot respectively. The prequel attempts to fill in the gap on what Jud has experienced in his younger days. But instead of something interesting to say to justify the existence of the prequel, it offers little worth investing in.

First-time director Lindsey Anderson Beer, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Jeff Buhler (2019’s Pet Sematary), fails to establish the much-needed respective familial bonds between these three principal characters: Jud, Timmy and Manny. The latter played by Forrest Goodluck is a local Native American who used to hang out with the other two. But the movie only gives us a few glimpses of their friendship and the same can be said for their families. For instance, it’s hard to root for what Billy has been through, which has to do with his son Timmy returning from Vietnam. The story could have developed the emotional struggle between these two characters and what a waste of opportunity relegating David Duchovny to a largely thankless supporting role.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines does try to spice up its prequel treatment with a backstory related to the old burial ground of Pet Sematary. It was a flashback taking place in the year 1674, which focuses on the original Mi’kmaq inhabitants and the invasion of the Europeans. Too bad the story is just glossed over in a superficial manner. As a horror film, the violence may have been visceral in some parts but it lacks sufficient scares. The climactic third act is disappointingly underwhelming and it doesn’t help either with the scene mostly taking place in the frustratingly dimly-lit setting.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is currently streaming on Paramount+.