Warning: This story contains spoilers.
If you see the new version of Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary,” don’t expect anything on par with the zeitgeist-grabbing thrill show that was the reboot of “IT,” or the moody, slow-burning menace of Hulu’s King-based series “Castle Rock.” It’s something a bit more unexpected, in these King-obsessed times: a serviceable but slightly boring horror flick.
The 2019 “Pet Sematary” follows the basic plot of the book and the 1989 movie. A Boston family moves to rural Ludlow, Maine, so the husband, Louis (Jason Clarke) can take a new job and he and his wife, Rachel (Amy Seimetz), can spend more time with their kids, Ellie (Jete Lawrence) and Gage (Hudo and Lucas Lavoie).
After the family’s beloved cat Church is hit by a truck, their neighbor, the folksy but odd Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) lets Louis know that part of the 50 acres he and his wife just bought contains not just a “pet sematary,” but also some sort of necromantic, evil spirit-possessed power that brings the dead back to life.
As you might expect, having this information does not turn out well for Louis. As played by Clarke, Louis is tough on the outside but vulnerable on the inside, and after Ellie is killed by a speeding truck — not, as in the originals, the younger son, Gage, a change that actually totally works — this mix of stoicism and despair leads him to rebury his daughter in the haunted woods. She comes back, and it’s not good.
The best part of the new “Pet Sematary” is the young actress who plays Ellie. Unlike many other children in horror movies, she is not at all an annoying brat or boring stereotype. She’s sweet, and charming, and that makes her death and “rebirth” all the more unsettling. The film is not particularly gory — not any more gory than, say, an episode of “The Walking Dead” — but the scenes that are violent mostly involve poor Ellie.
As Jud Crandall, John Lithgow is the other most entertaining part of the film, though he’s not even trying to don a Maine accent, and Lithgow’s natural gravitas doesn’t make him particularly believable as a rustic old Mainer living out in the woods. As Louis, Clarke effectively portrays a father going through grief, though his actual Australian accent does sneak out in more than a few places.
“Pet Sematary” is, of course, set in Maine, but the Maine that directors Kevin Kolsch and Denis Widmeyr envision is certainly an odd one. When the family cat Church is hit by a truck, it’s supposed to be Halloween, and yet there are green leaves on every tree. And for a movie that is largely set out in the woods, I hardly saw a single pine tree, which is a bit weird for a state that is literally covered in almost nothing but pine trees.
At the end of the day, the true villain of “Pet Sematary” is likely the Creed family’s realtor, who sold them a house on 50 acres that contain an ancient Native American burial ground, and a demonic, cannibalistic presence that can raise the dead.
But that’s horror movies for you. Sometimes, the plot holes are as wide as a springtime pothole in Maine (coincidentally, there aren’t any of those in the movie). And as is unfortunately the case with “Pet Sematary,” it’s just another horror movie. Not bad, but not that good, either.