In this adaptation of Stephen King’s popular horror novel, doctor Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) moves his family down from Boston to the small town of Ludlow, Maine but when his daughter’s beloved cat Church dies along a particularly busy highway, Louis is taken by neighbour Jud (John Lithgow) to bury the cat in a mysterious burial ground for the town’s beloved pets and the next day, Louis and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) are shocked to discover that Church has come back from the dead, eerily different than before. But when another terrible tragedy befalls the family, Louis does the unthinkable and breaks the barrier that was never meant to be broken . . .
With this new adaptation of Pet Sematary, I was in a position that I hadn’t been in before because it marked the first occasion that I would be walking into a Stephen King adaptation having read the original novel first – all other times, it would always be “movie first”. I’m also aware that there was an earlier cinematic adaptation of the book but I haven’t seen it so won’t be making any comparisons. So being fully aware of what would happen in the story, I was curious to see how the book would translate to the screen.
Rather well, I’d say, because 2019’s Pet Sematary is incredibly faithful to the book (despite one major change and a slightly different ending) and it knows just what to include and what to leave out; it effectively covers the major incidents of the novel, including important and familiar lines of dialogue when appropriate, while at the same time trimming some of the fat by shortening certain sequences (i.e. shortening the journey to the pet sematary, getting rid of Norma Crandall, and making Louis’ break in of the regular cemetery less convoluted by getting rid of that high fence!), making the feature lean and “to the point”. The film also makes a big narrative change when it comes to the pivotal, shocking scene halfway through (as spoiled by the trailers, which told the WHOLE story!) and while there wasn’t really much reason to do this (except maybe to surprise those familiar with the book, I guess. Fat chance though, since the trailer ruined it), it actually works in the film’s favour because it directly ties in to Rachel’s deep seated nightmares about her deceased, “gwweat and tewwible” sister, so it fleshes out her character a little more.
Although on the flip side, events can seem slightly rushed as the filmmakers try to cover all the bases in a relatively short space of time and as such, one or two of the characters don’t quite get the development they deserve. And though it’s completely made and it all sure looks the part, it sometimes resorts to jump scares and common horror tropes (including MANY instances of characters hearing strange noises and then sloooooowly moving to investigate) and it doesn’t quite conjure up the desired feeling of dread and darkness that King did in his novel, preferring to play it slightly safe by following the original book more or less to the letter and not offering enough “newness” to the horror genre or playing around with the original material enough.
In other areas, the film is visually appealing as the production design is spot-on, taking the important locations from the book and then effectively “translating” them to the screen, the cinematography is crisp and Christopher Young’s score is appropriately menacing. The cast are also a fine bunch and Jason Clarke carries the film quite well as the troubled Louis, Amy Seimetz brings plenty of life in her equally effective role of Rachel, John Lithgow is well cast as Jud, and young Jeté Laurence impresses as Ellie – she can be sweet and likeable while also managing to be wonderfully unsettling and creepy.