Sometimes dead is better. Sometimes remakes are better, too. Stephen King’s Pet Sematary returns with a moody aesthetic and a creepily intense atmosphere, a satisfyingly suspenseful production that keeps you hooked even if you know exactly what is going to happen. More or less.
Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, and young Jeté Laurence star in the eerie thriller about an ancient graveyard that brings animals—or whatever you bury there—back from the dead, albeit not exactly the same as they were originally (hint: they tend to be a little more evil and love to use scalpels).
The cast is aces all around, with both Clarke and Seimetz commanding every scene they are in and Lithgow working well in a supporting role. The two leads are especially terrific during the film’s climax, elevating the material above your typical horror fare. Laurence, who plays the daughter Ellie, is quite good as well.
Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, who last paired up for the well-received horror film Starry Eyes, are the real stars, though, bringing King’s popular book back to life with a visual flair and intensity to boot. Pet Sematary isn’t the scariest movie out there, but the duo do a good job of injecting tension into every corner of the film, even scenes which should be innocuous. As a result, the movie emits a constant sense of foreboding, a reminder that you have to be on guard at all times.
You could cut the tension with a knife, and Kölsch and Widmyer often do.
Pet Sematary isn’t perfect. While the pace and overall length is just right, the entire third act seems abrupt—the filmmakers don’t hang long enough with the dead child to allow the actor to really do much with the role (Creepy Child Hall of the Fame, this one will likely just miss out)—and think what fun it could have been to expand on the source material a bit and dig a bit deeper into the grave.
But the movie’s biggest sin is not of the filmmakers’ doing—Paramount’s marketing team for some reason decided to give away the movie’s big twist, a somewhat massive change from the novel and original 1989 film. Why they chose to put it in the trailers is baffling.
Pet Sematary isn’t groundbreaking horror, but it’s a solid Stephen King thriller that assuredly deserves attention. Sometimes dead is better. This remake is certainly better than many of the Stephen King movies made over the years.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.