Literally an episode of “My Cat from Hell.”
The worst part about going to see a scary movie is that all of the coming attractions are for scary movies. After two or three trailers, you end up even more freaked out than you were before you sat down! As I prepared myself to watch Pet Sematary (2019), I saw the trailers for The Curse of La Llorona (2019), Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019), and inexplicably, Rocketman (2019). What an Elton John biopic was doing lumped in with those horrors remains a mystery to me. God, I hope that’s not subtle advertising that the movie will end up being a horror show. Anyway as it turns out, enduring the trailers for those other movies was a far more frightening experience than the actual viewing of Pet Sematary.
Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, Pet Sematary follows Dr. Louis Creed and his family as they move from Boston to the small town of Ludlow, Maine. Their new home is a sprawling property that includes a “Pet Sematary,” the local burying ground for the town’s deceased pets. When the family’s beloved cat Church is hit by a car, Louis’ new neighbour Jud brings Louis to a piece of land with the power to bring the dead back to life. However, Louis soon learns that the dead don’t always return in pleasant ways.
I’m a huge fan of Stephen King. His legendary works are a huge influence to me as a writer, and I hope to one day write a ghost story as bone-chillingly terrifying as his. I also really like several movie adaptations of King novels, such as Stand by Me (1986), Misery, (1990), and The Shawshank Redemption (1994). They’re usually very thrilling, brilliantly acted, and surefire nightmare-fuel. Well, I’m sorry to say that the latest iteration of Pet Sematary underwhelms in all three categories. Look, this is by no means a bad movie. If I were streaming it on Netflix or watching it on cable, I’d probably be pleasantly satisfied. However, because I paid the price of admission and had heard positive word of mouth about it, I’m a little disappointed that Pet Sematary was simply “fine” instead of “astounding.” Side note, a cinematic universe connecting all of Stephen King’s work is the only one I truly want. Could you imagine?
To its credit, the movie starts off on a really solid note. Spooky visuals of a dark forest accompanied by what I can only imagine is a soundtrack of haunted house sounds, really set the scene for a good ol’ fashioned ghost story. I totally turn up for spooky haunted house sounds by the way. Really, this movie features the archetypal dark forest sets and as a fan of classic horror, I greatly appreciated them. Come on. Is there anything spookier that a dark and hellish forest? I also appreciate cats of all shapes and sizes and props to this movie for casting a truly adorable one to play Church. You guys, I loved this cat so much I was like, “damn, I don’t even care if he’s a murderous demon. I want to snuggle with Church!”
Though it lacks the heart-pounding scares and all-consuming intrigue that we’ve come to expect from movies based off King’s work, Pet Sematary is still brimming with ambient music and haunting visuals that help sell the overall creepiness of the movie. Now, I’m a big fan of creepy, but like I said, when you’re dealing with the work of Stephen King, I demand pure unadulterated terror. Unlike classic King adaptations like The Shining (1980) or recent hits like It (2017), Pet Sematary fails to illicit any true nightmares. The movie tries a handful of different tell-tale signs of horror, including blood and guts, flashbacks, and local legends, but nothin seems to stick. Really, Pet Sematary is kind of like a weird casserole of horror. You can identify some elements that really work, but know that other elements should never have been included.
While I have to give the movie points for its overall grim and macabre tone, the abundance of jump scares reduce the good will the movie builds. I hate jump scares. To me, they feel like a cheap way of scaring an audience. It’d be like a theatre pumping in laughing gas while a comedy is playing. OF COURSE people are going to laugh! With jump scares, OF COURSE people are going to be frightened by a sudden loud noise and something popping up out of nowhere! It’s cheating is what it is. Seriously though, four jump scares in the first 15 minutes? If a horror movie needs to rely on the simplest of scare tactics, that shows a severe lack of faith in the source material. It’s Stephen King people! Make it work! Another big problem with Pet Sematary is that while the horrific tone is set up swiftly within the movie’s first act, it then takes FOREVER for anything of genuine terror to happen. I’ll appreciate the sound of crows cawing, eerie mist, and gnarled trees as much as the next horror fan, but if nothing dynamic is happening in the story, than you’re just staring at a creepy picture.
Surprisingly, in a movie that stars Jason Clarke and John Lithgow, the greatest asset is Jeté Laurence as Louis’ daughter Ellie. A talented young actress, she’s able to go from Disney Channel adorable to The Walking Dead (2010 – present) menacing at the drop of a hat. In a movie where the spookiness is few and far between, she is always delivering. Oh my God, you know who the true menace of this movie is though? The multiple truck drivers who are speeding through a residential area.
An over reliance on jump scares, and far too many hallucinations for my liking, hinder Pet Sematary from reaching the potential of its exhilarating premise. Still a perfectly fine, by the books horror movie, I’d recommend this movie if you’re a fan of King or cats, demonic or otherwise.
Have you seen Pet Sematary? Are you a fan of Stephen King?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!