Movies: Pet Sematary
Pet Sematary, based on Stephen King's 1983 novel, is pretty dumb. I'll just get that out of the way. I haven't read the book and I haven't seen the 1989 film adaptation, so I have nothing to compare this film to (though I assume the book is much better and scarier), but I can say that as a standalone, Pet Sematary is pretty weak. As John Lithgow says in the film, "sometimes, dead is better." Indeed.
There are spoilers in this review.
The movie follows Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), a doctor who has moved his family from Boston to Ludlow, Maine to "slow down" so he can spend more time with his family: wife Rachel (Amy Semeitz), 9 year old daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence), and toddler Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie). It doesn't take the Creed family long to realize that there is a creepy-ass pet cemetery (misspelled "sematary" because kids can't spell...nor can pets) where generations of children in Ludlow have buried beloved animals.
But it's not the "sematary" the Creeds need to be wary of, it's what lies beyond...
An elderly man named Jud Crandall (John Lithgow, easily the best part of the film) strikes up a friendship with the Creeds after helping Ellie out when she gets a bee sting. The old man has a soft spot for the little girl (not in a creepy way) since he never had children of his own and his wife has passed away. When Ellie's cat, Church (short for Winston Churchill), is hit by a truck, he shows Louis a different place to bury it...A FREAKIN NATIVE AMERICAN BURIAL GROUND*.
Sure enough, Church comes back...but, different. Meaner. More violent.
Having Church come back has spared Louis the discomfort of telling Ellie her cat died. But at what cost? Reviews I've read called Louis a "putz" who couldn't sack up and tell his kid about death. But the thing that gets me is that the whole Church-zombie thing isn't really Louis' fault--it's Jud's. Jud knew about the special powers of the land and, though Louis didn't ask too many questions, didn't exactly give Louis fair warning.
So, when Ellie herself is hit by a car and dies, Jud can hardly blame Louis for doing exactly what the audience has been waiting for. In a state of crushing grief, Rachel and Gage spend a few days at Rachel's parents--giving Louis the space and time to exhume Ellie, bury her beyond the pet cemetery, and wait for the inevitable to happen. It does. Ellie comes back...but different. Meaner. More violent.
Now, to be fair to Louis, if you were a parent whose kid was killed and you knew a special place that would bring them back to life, you know damn well you'd bury them there, damn the consequences. Unfortunately, the consequences for Louis and the rest of his family are dire when zombie Ellie returns.
The thing about Pet Sematary is that it's about a parent's worst nightmare and yet this particular iteration of the story doesn't really honor the grief and agony at the heart of it all. We see Louis and Rachel mourn Ellie's death for all of 5 minutes before Louis is scheming to bring her back. The film races past the grief to get to the zombie 9-year-old, twirling in her dirty ballet costume and threatening mom with a kitchen knife. I've seen horror movies do grief (Hereditary) and I've seen horror movies do the terror of being a parent (The Babadook) and Pet Sematary just doesn't do any of it justice. I will admit I watched some parts through my fingers, but ultimately the scares weren't enough to justify the lack of an emotional core.
Now, for people who hate seeing animals and children die in movies, you're safe here--they all come back. But, as Jud would say, sometimes dead is better.
*yes, the concept of the spoopy ancient Native American burial ground is hella racist. I have to admit, I loved Jud's shoutout the the Wendigo though. When will they make a movie about the Wendigo!?