Pet Sematary  Review: Sometimes Remake is Better
Discarding the campy tone of Mary Lambert's adaptation of Stephen King's seminal horror novel to aim for a serious one, doing away with subplots it could work without, and delivering a final twist that surprisingly works, the second film adaptation of Pet Sematary offers better production values in addition to acceptable performances and yet the film as a whole manages to be only a slight improvement over the previous version.
Sometimes a remake is better. Though I am always skeptical when it comes to sequels, prequels, reboots or remakes, the argument for the latter isn’t entirely unfounded if the original itself was no good. Remaking irrefutable classics is a definite no-no in my book but the first film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name was anything but that. Despite its script being penned by the famous author himself, Pet Sematary (1989) was one absurd, comical & laughable schlock that has only dated terribly over the years, and looks a tad too cartoonish today.
Also, when it comes to adapting a novel into a film, a few changes are necessary, for what works effectively in the literary medium may not deliver the desired impact on the film canvas. This latest iteration of King’s novel was, by all means, an opportunity to improve upon the 1989 adaptation by rectifying its mistakes but it only gets to the halfway mark in erasing those shortcomings. The film deviates from its source material and while few of those changes do work out in its favor, the subtext is somewhat lost in translation as it ends up playing out like any conventional horror flick.
The story of Pet Sematary concerns Dr. Louis Creed who relocates from an urban setting to a small town in order to escape the pressures of big city life and spend more time with his wife & children. Soon after moving, the family stumbles across a pet cemetery that lies in their backyard and also makes acquaintance with their elderly neighbor Jud who strikes up a friendship with them. But their idyllic family life soon spirals out of control when in the wake of an unexpected tragedy, Louis turns to Jud who tells him about a secret burial ground hidden deep in the woods that has a mystical power of its own.
Directed by Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer, the film opens with the same cheap & lazy trick that seems to be becoming the norm of late. Instead of beginning the story with a proper opening act, more and more filmmakers are opting for flash-forward scenes for no valid reason except for their fear that the audience may lose interest if they do not have something to look forward to. It may be their method to ensure the viewers would stick around when in actuality, it only reflects their own lack of confidence in their material. Regardless, there are a few things this remake gets right and then some it doesn’t.
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Discarding the campy tone of Mary Lambert’s treatment, the film aims for a serious tone. It also throws out the subplots it could do without. The production values are way better and the same can be said about the performances. And there is also a final twist that surprisingly works. However, this new take from a different angle doesn’t add any new layer beneath the surface, not to mention that there are still moments in the final print that should have ended up on the editing room floor. Both Jason Clarke & John Lithgow play their part well but there are no standouts, except for maybe Church the Cat.
Many subplots that were major plot points in the previous rendition are only glanced at here but never truly explored. The film addresses the themes of loss, grief, death, regret & the protagonist’s unwillingness to accept it but it does so in a half-hearted fashion. Its attempts at scaring the audience fall short on a number of occasions and many of them are predictable. There are upgrades in the technical department, plus the storytelling is straightforward but there isn’t much to take away once the movie concludes. And it is a shame because the premise is an interesting one, and more could’ve been done with it.
On an overall scale, Pet Sematary is only a slight improvement over Mary Lambert’s 1989 treatment that modifies Stephen King’s seminal horror novel to suit its own narrative yet the film as a whole fails to deliver the desired results. The absence of camp & melodrama does put it ahead of that cringe-worthy version for me but I wouldn’t be surprised if some prefer the original over this. Both adaptations have their positives & negatives. Where the first attempt captured the essence of the novel more closely despite the visual decay, this remake has got more entertainment value. People may keep arguing over which version is better but in my opinion, they both failed to make the most of what was up for grabs here.