The problem with the new Pet Semetary movie is in how it lacks soul. This paint by numbers product uses every known cliche and jump scare to show that all is not right with the Creed family. They relocated to a sleepy town of Ludlow, Maine so they can lead a simpler life. From a dark and stormy night to creepy black-eyed children (technically it’s Rachel (Amy Seimetz)’s sister who died of spinal meningitis when she’s young) to a foggy swamp, were they really needed? I’m reminded of the scene where Indiana Jones opens up the Well of Souls. I felt more of a shock when the Jackal statue scared Sallah and he asked why does the ground look alive.
In this film, the sidekick is Jud (John Lithgow), who makes the mistake of befriending Louis (Jason Clarke), the patriarch of the family. Anyone who has read King’s book or seen the 1989 film knows what will happen. This film’s execution thankfully doesn’t rely on too many jump scares to get into the action. The creep factor comes in waves. From the strange funeral possession of neighbourhood kids burying a dead pet to the reveal of a Wendigo hiding deep in them thar woods, the answers are there. But yet, Louis plays no heed to the obvious warnings. Grief-stricken, the thought of bringing back the family cat to life only paves way to darker desires.
The connection to the creature of Indian folklore is too marginalized to give this film the oomph it really needs. The Wendigo is a terrible creature and legends about them are essentially cautionary tales about isolation and selfishness (1). Not every viewer will know that. Equally missed is in how the parents find it difficult to talk about death to their children. Part of it lies in how slowly Rachel’s story unravels. The matriarch has issues which should be more intertwined with the plot. Understanding death, what exists in the thereafter, where her sister’s soul is are all pieces in the puzzle which could have materialized by the second act than third.
When Louis tries to bring everything he has lost back from the great beyond, he gets a lot more than he bargained for. The metaphysical aspects of this film were missed. The discourse concerning what exists in life after death is too brief and I hoped to learn more about why the Indians fled the region. To say the Wendigo walks these parts is not enough. Also, I wanted to see an explanation of why the neighbourhood kids wore animal masks to the graveyard. The odd bramble of tree limbs in the cemetery itself was never explained. While not necessarily a plot hole, to live next to a major truck route without installing fences right away suggests bad parenting is at work.
Remakes of classic films are a Hollywood fact. The machine is dry and not a lot of screenwriters are willing to come up with original films anymore. Honestly, not every Stephen King film needs to be remade. The 1989 version had a charm which I enjoyed. It’s tough not to forget Fred Gwynne. The casting of Lithgow felt like a nod to that nostalgia. That is, let’s give an actor better known for his comedy a seriously dramatic role and let him have fun with it. I won’t say who is better. They are both fantastic on screen. As for retelling the same ol’ story time and time again (I’m sure there’ll be a sequel or prequel to this modern take to further the backstory), it’s honestly not needed.
3 Stars out of 5
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