‘Pet Sematary’ should have remained dead

Church the cat in Pet Sematary

“Fate is not satisfied with inflicting one calamity.” – Publilius Syrus

Pet Sematary 2019 is essentially the novel and/or 1989 film buried in the cursed grounds of the plot and resurrected in the same manner: starts off seeming the same but a little off, then turns bad and wants to do you harm. Rotten and needlessly nihilistic, this version is ironic proof of its own message that sometimes it’s best to let the dead stay dead.

For those unfamiliar, our story is that the Creed family has just moved to a small town in Maine. There, trucks zoom by randomly and a notable spot is the title location. Beyond this though lies a cursed burial ground, where the dead can be resurrected. Of course, something that seems too good to be true has a rather nasty catch.

After the Creeds have settled in and befriended neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), father Louis (Jason Clarke) has a patient (Obssa Ahmed) brought in who dies shortly thereafter. But he returns as a ghost to Louis in dreams that maybe aren’t to warn him of the cemetery and land beyond it. Will he heed those warnings? You answered correctly if you guessed no.

Sure this sounds pretty on point so far, but when we get to the end of Act II, things are changed and not at all for the better. There’s switch-ups to how some events play out, and not only do they seem forced and awkward, but they undermine the text and its themes (the Louis character in particular has his arc ruined). Not to mention the backstory on Timmy Baterman is excised (actually, there’s a microsecond Easter egg of him in an article shown), so a key piece of the plot is just flat-out missing. And the ending is absolutely terrible.

The shadows of the Stephen King novel and previous film (with the script by King himself) loom large over this film, and it seems to think its best shot at justifying its existence is to make these changes without regard to whether they actually serve the story and characters in question. They really have no purpose than to be different for the sake of being different. The actors are fine in their parts (although it needs to be said that the casting of Ahmed is troubling in that it propagates the “black guy dies first” and “magic negro” cliches), but not nearly as memorable as those who played them the first time.

But the eeriness is captured quite well and the scares are effective. And when the film does manage to stay faithful to the source material – which, to be fair, is a good portion of the runtime – it provides a more than serviceable rendering of King’s work.

In the end, though, Pet Sematary 2019 really does nothing to avoid coming off like a shameless cash grab that was only made because It 2017 turned out well. There is zero reason for anyone to give consideration to this movie over the prior versions. This is certainly a case where things that were laid to rest long ago should have remained so.

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