I must confess that I have no love whatsoever for the 1989 version of Pet Sematary other than Fred Gwynne’s famous line read of “Sometimes, dead is better.” When I saw it in the theater, it felt paced and read like a comedy when it certainly shouldn’t. For all the movies made from King’s works, it’s not amongst my favorites.
When the new film was introduced and it was continually referred to as a more frightening version — some early views by critics even promised a lot of shocking material — I was interested. I’d enjoyed Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer film Starry Eyes (not so much the movie Holidays, another contribution to the 2010’s history of ruining the portmanteau genre), so there seemed to be some promise.
Louis Creed (Jason Clark, who was also in the abysmal Winchester) has taken his young family from Boston to the much smaller town of Ludlow where he plans on being a small town doctor, away from the hustle, bustle and violence of the big city.
His wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz, You’re Next) has never escaped the death of her sister, Zelda, who suffered from spinal meningitis and hated her for being healthy. Left alone with her one evening, the sick girl died when she fell down a dumbwaiter shaft.
Their two young children, Ellie and Gage, really enjoy having the huge woods around the house. While they explore, Ellie watches a group of children in animal masks take a dead dog to a cemetery on their land. Jud Crandall (John Lithgow!) meets the young girl and warns the family of the dangers in the woods. If this was ever expanded on — why do the kids have these masks other than it looks creepy and cool? — this would be more interesting.
The story beats are the same, other than one major inversion. A young man dies on Louis’ operating table, haunting him with the barrier between life and death. Church the cat dies and is brought back to life by the spirit of the Wendigo that lives inside the sour ground of the pet cemetery (or sematary, I guess). When he comes back from the dead, he’s not the same, scratching at everyone and killing birds inside at the foot of the bed.
The switch is that Ellie — and not Gage — is killed. That sequence, when the truck’s cargo shoots out across the highway toward her, is really well shot. This is probably the highlight of the film. From here on out, it’s jump scares and revisions of what came before, with a much darker ending that was probably the only other thing I enjoyed about this whole affair.
Multiple versions of the ending were written and several of them were filmed, including the original ending of the book. This one got the best response from test screenings. King proposed an alternate ending, where after all the violence and bloodshed, Gage is walking up the middle of the road as a truck bears down on him. Then at the last second, a woman would yank him out of harm’s way, asking, “Where’s your mommy and daddy?”
I struggle to find a reason why this movie exists. Other than the flip of what child dies — and the daughter being able to be much more sinister than a younger boy — there’s nothing in here that says much more than the original film. It’s not a bad movie by any means, but it’s not a good one either. It’s just kind of there. Life is too short for that. There’s too much to experience, after all.