Full disclosure up front, I have not seen or read any other iteration of Pet Sematary by Stephen King. After the success of the 2017 adaptation of IT, I am on board for lots of new King adaptations. Even though I knew very little about the premise for this film, I took a lot away from it. The thematic elements are truly something special and allowed me to enjoy the film despite my misgivings with the plot.
The primary theme of Pet Sematary is how people deal with grief and loss. The opening scene makes it clear that this is a film full of blood, carnage, and images of death. Before the real meat of the story kicks in, there are repeated references to death and the afterlife. You learn about how each major character (capable of forming complex sentences) perceives and struggles with death. None of the main characters seem to have a healthy relationship with loss of life.
John Lithgowplays Jud, the primary family’s neighbor, who has knowledge of a sacred location deep in the woods on their property. The story does a bit of a disservice to Jud. It’s clear that you never learn the whole truth about how he came to learn about the pet sematary and what it can do. The events of his life are much more troubling than he lets on, and I wanted to know more.
One other element of the story I felt was a bit lacking was the discussion of the pet sematary itself. Its capabilities are fairly well defined, but there are no concrete answers about why that piece of ground is so special. It also seems as though the sematary may have some kind of psychological effect on Louis (the father, played by Jason Clarke) which is never fully explored.
If you are wondering if Pet Sematary is scary, the answer is yes. There are some great scares, and only a few relied on the jump scare gimmick. It does rely on the creepy little girl gimmick, but it works here to tremendous effect. One of the scariest elements of the film is seeing how easy it is to hurt those around you because of an inability or unwillingness to properly deal with loss. Personally, I didn’t feel like I had to look hard to see that message, and it was unexpectedly welcome coming from a horror flick!
I would like to re-watch the movie again in the future, though I may not pay to do so in theaters. Hopefully, more small details will reveal themselves after reading the book. There are several big changes in the film, and time will tell whether or not I think they are changes for the better.
Pet Semetary has only increased my excitement for future King movies! There were some small references to IT, and I’m curious to see if a larger King film universe will try to weave these stories together in the future.
I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoyed Hereditary, The Ritual, or Paranormal Activity. A lot of similar themes like the unwilling acquisition of the supernatural are discussed in all of these films.
Check out more of my reviews, as well as interviews here.
Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures.