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“Pet Sematary” Creepily Continues The Stephen King Remake Trend

The hottest trend in horror right now is Stephen King, and specifically, remakes of some of his seminal works. Most recently, It was a box office smash, which got the ball rolling. Now, we have a new Pet Sematary on our hands. A more efficient updating of the original film, it also makes enough changes to the story that we’re not just watching the exact same narrative play out over again. Bleak, creepy, and effective enough to recommend, it’s also not nearly as good as the early buzz out of SXSW this year suggested. It’s a decent fright flick but that’s about it.

The movie is, of course, a remake of the adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name. The Creed family is looking for a slower paced life as they relocate to a small town in rural Maine from their busy Boston life. Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), their children Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie), as well as their cat Church initially seem to be adjusting well. Then, the daughter sees a group of neighborhood kids in a creepy procession into the woods. The family soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home. Neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) befriends Ellie, though it’s Louis who he explains the secret of the burial ground to when Church dies. If you bury something in a special part of the woods, what you bury will come back. However, they come back different, which starts the family on a terrifying descent, especially once another tragedy strikes. Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer direct a screenplay from Jeff Buhler and Matt Greenberg. Supporting players include Obssa Ahmed and Alyssa Brooke Levine. The spooky score comes from Christopher Young, while Laurie Rose handled the cinematography.

There’s a consistent bleakness to Pet Sematary that’s admirable. The filmmakers don’t shy away from anything. Especially when it comes to the conclusion, it’s some dark stuff. Aside from that, it’s a consistently creepy picture, though never overtly scary. It’s all about building the mood and some tension here, which works more often than it does not. The cliches come fast and furious, but when the filmmakers aren’t leaning into those genre tropes hot and heavy, there’s an effective sense of foreboding. It’s all stuff we’ve seen done before, some of it even in the original, but it’s credibly depicted here.

The best part about the film, without question, is Jeté Laurence, who gives a very strong performance, one that asks a lot of the child. Laurence is asked to do a lot, especially in the third act, and she capably depicts a really difficult character arc. Child actors/actresses are rarely tasked with this sort of a role. She’s one to watch out for. Veterans like Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, and Amy Seimetz are fine, but they’re not nearly asked to do as much as Laurence is. Without her, Pet Sematary would have had trouble pulling off the changes it makes with this remake.

This weekend, audiences who love King’s classic novel, or the original film he write the script for, can see a new version of the story in Pet Sematary. This seems poised to make some solid money at the box office, even if it can’t live up to some of the loftier praise out of SXSW last month. As far as remakes go, it’s a pretty solid one. Laurence and her performance helps make this worthy of a recommendation/thumbs up from yours truly. With expectations in check, you should be able to have a creepy time at the movies. Brace yourself for the bleakness and remember that sometimes, dead is better…

Be sure to check out Pet Sematary, in theaters everywhere right now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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