The new “Pet Sematary ” has familiar elements of Stephen King’s classic 1983 novel and previous film, namely the haunted graveyard where the dead are buried but return as murderous incarnations of their former selves.
The remake arrives in theaters 30 years after the first “Pet Sematary” film found critical and commercial success. But it too has come back different, this time expanding on the supernatural premise to delve deeper into the emotional impact of grief.
“It’s like Frankenstein, creating them and bring them back, and saying ‘It’s alive, it’s alive,'” said Jason Clarke, who stars as Louis Creed, a physician searching for a simpler life with his family in rural Maine. “This story is disturbing and digs deep. It’s about life and death, but also about the emotional state that comes with it.”
Soon after Creed and his wife, two children and their cat move into their new home, the doctor discovers a creepy cemetery in a wooded area nearby. After the family cat is found trampled, Creed tries to make things right for the sake of his daughter’s innocence, but quickly realizes the ramifications of burying the dead at the sacred site.
“You can’t protect your kids from everything,” said Amy Seimetz, who plays Creed’s wife, Rachel. Her character is still traumatized after witnessing her older sister’s gruesome death as a child, and she wants to protect her children from the idea of death in hopes they’ll have regular childhood.
That dream ends when a massive truck runs over one of the couple’s children. Louis’ impulse to undo the tragedy causes a horrific ripple effect.
“When something does happen, what do you do?” Seimetz asked. “This film captures the upsetting and melancholy aspect of death. There’s the anger side of it. Then there’s the denial side of it, then there is the manic lunacy of what losing somebody so close to you makes you feel. The movie unfolds in the process of grief and loss in an interesting way.”
Clarke and Seimetz said Jeté Laurence — who plays the couple’s daughter Ellie — did a superb job in a pivotal role in the film.
“She’s very talented,” Clarke said. “Her performance really brought this movie together.”
Laurence, who turned 11 while filming “Pet Sematary,” said she hadn’t seen any of the previous films, but she quickly learned about the story’s premise that death could birth pure evil.
“I didn’t see the originals, but when I’m acting my imagination kind of takes over,” she said. “If I saw the original, I might not have as many ideas.”
The new “Pet Sematary” is the second film version of King’s 1983 novel. The first adaptation in 1989 found critical success starring Dale Midkiff, Denise Crosby and Fred Gwynne. A sequel that followed three years later was met with less favorable reviews.
Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, the remake’s directors, said they grew up reading King’s novel and were fans of the older films, both directed by Mary Lambert. Kolsch and Widmyer felt they needed to include elements from the book such as character names and some story lines, but insert their own twists.
“The book was super important to us,” Widmyer said. “The most important thing was to respect the essence of the book and make sure we were honoring the themes and telling the foundational story of ‘Pet Sematary.’ We had to bring something new to the table, too. For us, it was about keeping Stephen King and his fans happy. At the same time, we had to tell our version.”
Kolsch said it was important to bring back the film to update newer audiences to the story. He said the focus was more on the story than enhancing the cinematography experience in the new film compared to the previous ones.
“The universal theme of death will always be relevant,” he said. “It’s one of Stephen King’s personal stories, and it really struck a chord with people even though he initially didn’t want to publish because it scared him. It’s one of those stories that I think 30 years from now we’ll be revisiting again.”