Pet Sematary resurrects the fear of fur

Movie review: Pet Sematary

Stephen King’s classic gets a horror makeover that keeps asking the same unholy question: How far would we go to bring back a dead loved one?

Pet Sematary

3.5/5

Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo and Louis Lavoie

Directed by: Dennis Widmeyer and Kevin Kolsch

Running time: 1 hr 41 mins

Rating: Restricted

By Katherine Monk

Even Stephen King thought this story was a little too dark. In fact, fifth bestselling author in the world says Pet Sematary is the only story he’s ever written that actually scared him. Why? Because Pet Sematary was inspired by something that actually happened to King when he was asked to teach for a year at his old Maine alma mater.

The home he rented was on a road that claimed the lives of many pets, prompting residents of the small town to make a pet cemetery. When his daughter’s cat suffered the same fate, they buried it there — behind the house, in a quaint graveyard decorated by rotting collars, hand made drawings and paw prints.

The Kings’ cat didn’t come back, but when his young son was nearly hit by a truck, King started writing a story about a family much like his own — and what might happen if a father felt responsible for the death of his own child.

If it were possible to bring the kid back from the dead, would he do it? Would any of us do it? Is the compulsion to deny the death of a loved one enough to push us past our own moral boundaries?

Of course it is. That’s why Pet Sematary is considered one of King’s all-time classics — and also why King us such a successful scribe in the first place: He creates situations that are highly relatable, then kicks us down the stairs of our own misguided impulses.

In this Pet Sematary filmed in Montreal, we’re introduced to the Creed family, head by dad Louis (Jason Clarke) — a doctor who burnt himself out working at a big hospital in Boston. Now assigned to a university medical clinic in a sweet small town in Maine, Louis thinks he’s removed his family from the lurking dangers of the metropolis.

That’s why Pet Sematary is considered one of King’s all-time classics — and also why King us such a successful scribe in the first place: He creates situations that are highly relatable, then kicks us down the stairs of our own misguided impulses.

Yet, the house they’ve bought is on a busy road where big trucks tend to ignore the speed limit. It’s also attached to the pet cemetery in the backyard. Louis and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) worry about their two small children Ellie (Jete Laurence) and Gage (Hugo and Louis Lavoie) wandering around in the woods or getting hurt by traffic. But it’s the family cat — Churchill — who gets run over first.

Louis feels bad, and with the help of an old eccentric neighbour named Jud (John Lithgow), they bury the cat past the pet cemetery, on magically swampy ground. That very same night, the cat crawls back into the house — reanimated — but it’s not the same sweet kitty.

Louis is a man of science who doesn’t believe in such sorcery, but the cat stands before him — seemingly alive, and whole, although rather stinky and with fur so matted it can’t be combed out.    Louis’s whole belief system starts to crumble, and just as his wife asks to leave the house and return to Boston, they’re struck by tragedy.

Would Louis take the corpse of a dead child to the magical swamp? Would you? Of course we’d be tempted, but it’s been a generation since we heard Dee Dee Ramone explain why he doesn’t want to be buried in a pet cemetery. We know there will be some nasty consequences, which means most of this movie starts to feel like a giant waiting room.

We wait for the cat to die. We wait for the kid to die. We wait for some sense of moral redemption, but that only makes us more vulnerable — because we’re hoping for something happy to happen. We put our faith out there, the same way Louis did. And look what happened.

We wait for the cat to die. We wait for the kid to die. We wait for some sense of moral redemption, but that only makes us more vulnerable — because we’re hoping for something happy to happen. We put our faith out there, the same way Louis did. And look what happened.

The directing team of Dennis Widmeyer and Kevin Kolsch are so fluent in their chosen genre, the movie feels slick and seamless even when the story stops making sense. We buy into the creep value because it’s an elegantly executed horror movie that makes use of every tool — from the absence of a single sunny day, to the easily distorted features of a young child, to the very notion of a possessed pet.

They know what they are doing, and so do the actors, resulting in a perfectly joyless — if successful — night out in the foggy swamp with dead pets.

@katherinemonk

THE EX-PRESS, April 5, 2019

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Review: Pet Sematary

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Summary

3.5Score

Stephen King’s classic story of a haunted pet cemetery returns to the screen with an even darker feel thanks to the stony face of Jason Clarke and the unsettling presence of a reanimated cat. The directing team of Dennis Widmeyer and Kevin Kolsch are so fluent in their chosen genre, the movie feels slick and seamless even when the story stops making sense. We buy into the creep value because it’s an elegantly executed horror movie that makes use of every tool — from the absence of a single sunny day, to the easily distorted features of a young child, to the very notion of a possessed pet. - Katherine Monk

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