A Friday off work with no car (I was having an upgrade done to it) means a quiet day of doing nothing at home! What better way to pass some time before the afternoon Cubs game than watching yet another movie adaption based on a book by one of my favorite authors?
The 2019 remake of Stephen King’s novel “Pet Sematary” was released on DVD earlier this month. PPL added it to our collection this past Wednesday due to some complications between Wal-Mart and Amazon, but hey: we finally have it!
With the exception of 6 books of his that are either out-of-print or just flat out impossible to find, I own every Stephen King book. He is hands down my favorite author and has been since I was 10 years old and watched “Stand By Me” on TV one afternoon, only to later learn it was a novella from one of his books (“Different Seasons”). I then rented the book from this very library, loved it even more than the movie, and was hooked as a fan of his from then on.
So color me excited anytime something Stephen King related gets released; book or movie!
However, the unfortunate trend with Stephen King is the fact that his books are usually excellent and when they get turned into movies…they are the opposite. I will never be more depressed about the letdown of a movie than when my favorite book of his – “Cell” – was adapted into a movie starring one of my favorite actors (John Cusack), only to have it be one of the absolute worst movies I have ever seen in my life. And that is not hyperbole, I am dead serious: I would rank it in my Top 5 Worst Movies Ever Watched list. It. Is. Bad.
The 2019 remake of “Pet Sematary” doesn’t come close to getting itself added to that list, but it most certainly could have been better.
For anyone unaware of the story, either from not having read the book or not having seen the original 1989 movie, weird things happen in the small town of Ludlow, Maine. Local children bury their dead animals in a Pet Sematary (misspelled because they’re children), which is located adjacent to what turns out to be haunted ancient Indian burial grounds. Bury the dead within the confines of the Pet Sematary and everything is ok. Bury the dead within the Indian burial grounds and what is dead very quickly comes back to life…and is different…and not in a good way!
When a family relocates to Ludlow to start a new life, things get wonky in a hurry. Their beloved cat gets creamed on the highway in front of their house almost immediately. The dad Louis (Jason Clarke) enlists the help of their new neighbor Jud (the always wonderful, John Lithgow) in burying the cat, while trying to deal with the forthcoming trauma/heartbreak of informing his children of the cats passing. Jud, having taken a liking to Louis’ daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence), hates to see her heartbroken so he suggests that rather than bury the cat in the Pet Sematary, they bury it in the Indian burial grounds so that the cat can return and Ellie will be none the wiser. They do and then, as is the way of supernatural movies, all hell breaks loose.
First, I highly recommend the book to anyone over either movie. As is the case with any book, there is a lot more detail, and the book leaves a lot less unanswered questions. The movie leaves questions unanswered quite well, as it basically just wants you to shut up and watch and not think. I tend to always do the opposite of that and sometimes it takes me out of the movie watching experience. I chalk it up to lazy writing more than anything. I don’t *want* to have questions while watching a movie. *You’re* the one telling me the story and having things unfold, so it is up to *you* to address everything and not leave me going “Ok but what about…?” or “So why did that…?” etc.
Second, I recommend the original movie over this one. Hands down. The original, while dated 30 years later, still holds up better than this remake. The acting performances are better (save for Lithgow who steals this movie because he is John Lithgow) and everything in it felt more authentic. They even have the proper thick Maine accents in it! Unlike this one where everyone sounds like they live in a big city with no accent. While the girl playing Ellie in this movie is good, she simply doesn’t beat Miko Hughes as Gage (her brother) in the original. That may also be a surprise or a SPOILER ALERT to some: in this version the focus is on Ellie, and not the younger Gage like in the original movie.
As for the story itself…like I said, I have questions. Mainly the fact that…did nothing really happen in the town until this unfortunate family moved there? And, if not, then why did it seem to start with them? Or at least return so strongly because of them? How did they somehow trigger everything suddenly ramping up to 11? At one point Louis researches incidents in the town related to the Pet Sematary and gets two hits. Total. But, since his family moved there, there were like 4 sudden tragic events back-to-back-to-back-to-back….because why? Do the viewer a favor and at least better explain why what is happening is happening. Not to mention the increasingly stupid decisions Louis makes as the film progresses. For whatever reason, his stupidity did not stand out as much in the original film, but it really does here considering he is a doctor and very clearly has a good head on his shoulders…until things go sour. I guess the excuse is that grief alters people’s brains and decision making capabilities?
The original had a better pace to it, and that helped make it tenser. This film, despite being an hour and forty minutes, flies by because so much happens in such a short time, with no real elaboration on anything. It was never once tense or creepy. A couple “jump scares” exist but absolutely do not work. In fact, one involving a faulty dumbwaiter had me laughing so hard I had to pause the movie and text a friend about how ridiculously stupid it was. It just absolutely did not match the original in terms of quality.
Overall, like I said, it wasn’t fully bad, but it was/is definitely a letdown compared to its original predecessor, even more so to the book!
So, should you Watch it, or Skip it?
I say: Watch it…but only if you do yourself a favor and either read the book or watch the original movie too.
Don’t watch *only* this.
Take in at least one of the others and then sit back and compare, because I’m almost betting you’ll end up agreeing with me. Then, while you’re at it, watch the sequel to the original (“Pet Sematary Two”) as well. It’s not very good, but it does at least elaborate some on the whole “this happens because of this” thing that the original and this remake lacks.
Lastly: make sure to watch the alternate ending to the remake too. It’s not as good as the ending they went with, but it is at least worth viewing, which isn’t always the case when it comes to alternate endings.
To paraphrase the most quotable line of the original movie and this remake: “Sometimes originals are bett-ah!”
“Pet Sematary” has a runtime of 100 minutes and is Rated R for horror violence, bloody images, and language.