Remakes are always a risky venture. They can be criticised for adhering too closely to their predecessor, and being creatively stagnant, or they can go the other way and change a well-loved story unnecessarily, alienating the fans of the original. Sadly, the latter is the case with the new and revised version of Pet Sematary.
Based on the best selling book by Stephen King that was published in 1983 - this is the story of the Creed family, who move to a rural part of Maine and find that on their land, there’s a pet cemetery that has been used for generations by the local children to lay their pets to rest. Just beyond is the ancient burial ground of the Micmac tribe, where the ground has ‘gone sour’. Burying someone there will bring them back to life, but not quite as they were. When the family cat falls victim to the nearby highway used by speeding tanker trucks, their elderly neighbour shows Louis Creed the way to this burial ground and the cat is returned but is a soulless zombie version of his former self - but the most tragic loss of all befalls them when their youngest child Gage runs into the road and his grief-stricken father acts out of desperation.
By his own admission, and we wholeheartedly agree, this is certainly King’s most disturbing book to date, and was successfully adapted for the big screen in 1989, in a truncated but faithful version which was very bit as un-nerving as the book.
Thirty years later, the story is back on the screen in a version that might well work for an audience used to the sudden jolt scares of The Conjuring and The Nun, but is certain to leave fans of the book and the 1989 adaptation wondering what just happened.
Characters who are integral to the story seem rushed and unfinished. For example, Zelda - Rachel Gage’s older sister died of her spinal meningitis when Rachel was a child on the evening their parents went out, leaving Rachel alone to care for her. This has left Rachel psychologically damaged, and suffering flashbacks. Husband Louis has a tense and hostile relationship with her parents as a result. In this version, Zelda is little more than a background character used for sudden jump scares. Louis’ dysfunctional relationship with her parents is brushed under the carpet, other than the fact they barely acknowledge each other. Even the ghostly Victor Pascow, the spirit who’s trying to warn Louis not to take the path he’s considering is largely side-lined and contributes nothing of consequence to the narrative here.
But worse is changing the biggest part of the well-known story and having older child Ellie suffer the fatal accident. Inexplicably, tragic as her death is, knowing that a small toddler is run over is somehow more disturbing and chilling, especially when the innocence of a very small child is then corrupted by what happens when he’s buried in the sour ground beyond the marker.
If, somehow, the plot of Pet Sematary is new to you, then you’ll find this to be a perfectly serviceable horror film. But if you’re expecting a more faithful adaptation of the book, then to paraphrase the Ramones’ song “I don’t wanna be buried in THIS Pet Sematary.”
PET SEMATARY / CERT: 18 / DIRECTORS: KEVIN KÖLSCH, DENNIS WIDMYER / SCREENPLAY: JEFF BUHLER / STARRING: JASON CLARKE, AMY SEIMETZ, JOHN LITHGOW, JETÉ LAURENCE / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 5TH
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10