Winding through the forest outside Ludlow, Maine, the path is well marked, walked by generations of children as they visit the so-named “Pet Sematary” where they have buried their beloved deceased cats and dogs; moving from Boston to their new home and hopes of a quieter life, Louis and Rachel Creed and their children Ellie and Gage find that cemetery falls within their property, observing a sombre procession of masked children.
Rachel haunted by her childhood, the death of her sickly elder sister Zelda in tragic and not entirely plausible circumstances while under her care years before, the death of a young man at the hospital where he works takes a similar toll on Louis, brought home by the death of Ellie’s cat Church on the busy main road at the end of their drive.
Their elderly neighbour, the widower Jud Crandall, having taken a shine to Ellie, he wishes to ease her pain so suggests to Louis that instead of burying church in the “Pet Sematary” they walk deeper into the forest, over the deadfall of toppled trees which blocks the path to an older site of deeper power which holds a terrible secret known only to a few.
Originally published in 1983 and previously adapted in 1989, Stephen King’s Pet Sematary has now been resurrected by directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, written by Jeff Buhler from a screen story by Matt Greenberg, the previous version having been scripted by King himself.
While that was perhaps no masterpiece, Kölsch and Widmyer’s interpretation stinks like a rotten corpse; “This all happened pretty fast,” comments overly-coddling Rachel (Alien: Covenant‘s Amy Seimetz), perhaps subconsciously aware that while adhering to the structure of the original story that the wheels have been made to turn faster by stripping out any attempt to generate warmth or engagement in a film which is persistently gloomy instead of offering the contrast of light and shadow.
Rather than showing the Creeds as a loving, close family who are thrown into a terrible situation, misery hangs upon them in their dimly lit home throughout, Ellie’s birthday party hanging under a pall even before a speeding juggernaut enters the scene; while it ended with the nanny dangling from a rope, at least the children at Damien Thorn’s birthday enjoyed themselves until that interruption.
King’s having crafted a novel of a loving family weathering tragedy, Pet Sematary makes no attempt to be anything other than a horror, the opening titles a wildly unnecessary flash-forward to the closing scene of burning houses and bloodstained porches before returning to the present where flickering neon announces Louis’s visions of the overly chatty dead, he and Jud later taking a nocturnal stroll with shovels accompanied by thick fog rolling through dense trees illuminated by lightning flashes.
As Louis, Terminator Genisys‘ Jason Clarke once again mimics human behaviour rather than conveying it while Raising Cain’s normally reliable John Lithgow is given no chance to expand Jud beyond a plot device, lost in the gloom and overblown death scenes, the jump-cut of the trailer more effective than the juggernaut overturning in the road, though perhaps that is more symbolic of this floundering remake.