‘Pet Sematary: Bloodlines’ Fantastic Fest 2023 Review: An Admirable Take On Stephen King’s Scariest Novel

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines

In the massive pantheon of Stephen King adaptations of varying quality, only a handful of women have been able to direct their visions of the iconic author’s work. One such director is Mary Lambert, who directed the 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s most terrifying work, Pet Sematary, as well as its 1992 sequel. Following in her footsteps is Lindsey Anderson Beer with her feature film debut Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, a prequel inspired by King that looks at the terrifying history of Ludlow. While not perfect and even a bit clunky, Beer’s vision is ultimately a successful and heartfelt entry into the world of King. She demonstrates a deep love of the source material while also delivering some nasty scares and a heartbreaking look at what a father passes down to his son. 

In 1969, a young Jud Crandall (Jackson White) is packing up his life to join the Peace Corps with his girlfriend Norma (Natalie Alyn Lind). He still hasn’t been drafted into the Vietnam War, which is deeply frustrating for him as he wants to make a difference in the world. As he prepares to leave Ludlow, he runs into Bill Baterman (David Duchovny), the father of his childhood best friend Timmy, who tells Jud that Timmy is back from the war. What he fails to share is that Timmy came back in a box and was resurrected thanks to a desperate father and the Mi’kmaq burial ground that brings the dead back to life. 

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Jud and Norma brush off the interaction until their faithful departure day. As they head out of town, they have a violent encounter with Timmy’s dog Hendricks. Quickly, Jud realizes something is deeply wrong not just with Timmy, but with the entire town of Ludlow. He reconnects with another old friend, Manny (Forrest Goodluck), and together they try to figure out what the hell is going on. What they reveal is an ancient curse, the follies of colonizers, and a lot of weird underground tunnels.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, importantly, is inspired by the story Jud tells Louis about the last time a person was buried in the titular pet cemetery. Beer and co-writer Jeff Buhler use that sliver of King’s novel as the basis of the film, then expand it into a more emotional story about the love between a father and son, while also working to try and rectify the sins of the past in regard to shallow Indigenous representation. And for the most part, they’re successful but struggle to fully connect the past to the present. 

Regardless, there’s a sincerity to Pet Sematary: Bloodlines that’s so incredibly King which means two things: the film has a lot of heart and it’s also very cheesy in spots. While some viewers may not vibe with that sincerity, I find it incredibly endearing because it shows that Beer doesn’t just see this as a money grab. Striking that balance between passion and business decisions isn’t always successful, but Beer achieves such a balance thanks to strong solid performances from the young cast and a stronger sense of perspective than other recent IP horror releases.

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The young cast has such great chemistry, which really sells the stakes of the film and how trapped the boys feel. White and Goodluck especially click as two old friends trying to grapple with what it means to leave Ludlow. White plays young Jud as an iconic horror himbo, and some choice lines from Goodluck only underscore that decision. Isabella LaBlanc as Manny’s sister Donna is also a standout, though her lack of screen time is disappointing. Some of the more recognizable faces, such as Duchovny, seem to be acting in another film, but with the focus mostly on the younger cast, it’s a bit easier to forgive. Pam Grier and Henry Thomas do have a few badass moments, at least.

Importantly, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines makes an effort to rectify issues of cultural appropriation with two Indigenous stars and a story that squarely places blame on white colonizers for destroying the land. By no means is it handled perfectly, with quite a few questions left unanswered, but there’s at least an effort being made to grapple with that. The bar is on the ground in terms of Indigenous representation in horror and at least Beer made sure to jump over that bar with more than a little effort.

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Unfortunately, as Beer and Buhler dig deeper into the lore of Ludlow and its founders, the cracks in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines start to show. As they try to bring everything together to create a more cohesive history of Ludlow, it only gets more convoluted. It’s the common problem these IP films face in trying to balance legacy versus creativity. At least Beer is able to stay focused creatively unlike another legacy sequel coming out this week.

Overall, Beer’s take on Pet Sematary is an entertaining and spooky experience with a lot of heart. Yes, it feels cheesy at times and it doesn’t necessarily stick the landing, but it never once wavers in what it wants to say about the sins of the father and the sins of the colonizer. It’s an admirable adaptation that works within the confines of an IP to create a unique story that also enriches the existing films. From gnarly kills to a himbo Jud Crandall, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is perfect for Halloween viewing. It proves trusting new filmmakers with existing IP results in exciting takes on familiar stories that take risks instead of simply appeasing existing audiences. If you’re going to watch a new entry in an iconic franchise this weekend, your best bet is to turn on Pet Sematary: Bloodlines

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines comes exclusively to Paramount+ on October 6, 2023.



From gnarly kills to a himbo Jud Crandall, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is perfect for Halloween viewing.



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