SXSW 2019: PET SEMATARY Review – The Definitive Take on King’s Classic Novel
Starring Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence
Written by Jeff Buhler
Directed by Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
We’re currently in a golden age of Stephen King adaptations. It: Chapter One shattered box office expectations – not to mention records – and Castle Rock received critical acclaim, along with Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game. A literary master of horror, Stephen King and his work has been the inspiration for TV and Film for over 40 years…and rightfully so. Now with a new take on Pet Sematary, the 1983 novel sees the adaptation it’s always deserved.
The film follows the Creed’s, Louis (Clarke), Rachel (Seimetz), Ellie (Laurence), and Gage (Hugo Lavoie), and their move from the big city to Ludlow, a small village where Louis can be a doctor without worrying about emergency cases…or so he thinks. Next door neighbor Jud Crandall (Lithgow) takes on a grandfatherly role after meeting Ellie and slowly becomes a part of the family, his loneliness eased by their kindness. Of course, we all know that happiness in a Stephen King story is short-lived and Pet Sematary is no exception.
Wonderfully directed by Widmyer and Kölsch (who directed 2014’s Starry Eyes), Pet Sematary soars with creepy atmospheres, genuinely frightening sequences, and believable emotion. The result is a film that doesn’t sacrifice the important themes of grief and family to focus on scaring the audience. Both are balanced against, and with, each other for maximum effect. This allows for the characters to explore their pain and loneliness as they deal with a terrible tragedy as they’re trying to settle in a new place.
Every member of the film plays their role admirably, even through a few awkward script moments. Laurence shines in a role as both the joy-filled daughter and the resurrected entity that’s not quite the same. Clarke plays Louis with intensity and emotion, allowing himself to live in the grief of a father who loses a child. Semietz’s take on Rachel is filled with strength, conviction, and guilt, haunted by the memories of her sister Zelda (who we see far more than in the 1989 version). Lavoie is perfectly fine as Gage but is relegated more to a tool than a fleshed out character. Lithgow presents yet another great performance, making Jud a tragic but nuanced character. And the cats that played Church are evidence proof that animals deserve an Academy Award category of their own.
Cinematographer Laurie Rose shoots the hell out of Pet Sematary, capturing haunting landscapes and joyous celebrations with equal grace and seemingly effortless talent. Composer Christopher Young, a mainstay in the horror genre, offers forth a subtly spooky score that worms its way under your skin. Writer Jeff Buhler adapts King’s novel in bold ways, crafting changes that make sense and add to the philosophy around the nature of death and what lies beyond.
Horror fans will be thrilled by the sparse yet unsettling gore as well as the elongated bouts of tension and misdirects. While relegated to only a small bit of screen time in the first adaptation, Zelda plays a far more prominent role in this film and goddamn is she scary. Kölsch and Widmyer use their razor sharp abilities to craft one effective scare after another. Pet Sematary is the kind of horror film that genre fans clamor for.
In an age of stellar Stephen King adaptations, Pet Sematary stands tall and proud. Scary as hell, beautifully shot, and faithful in tone, horror fans won’t want to miss this!