Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s Pet Sematary tells the story of Dr. Louis Creed and his family, who have left Boston to find peace and togetherness in rural Maine. Louis (Jason Clarke) and his wife, Rachel (Amy Seimetz), transplant their daughter, Ellie (Jeté Laurence), and young son, Gage (played by Hugo and Lucas Lavoie), along with Ellie’s beloved cat, Church. The family’s new home comes with a few surprises: a busy road frequented by fast-moving trucks, a children’s pet cemetary, and a new neighbor, Jud. John Lithgow is perfect as Jud, charming and maybe a little bit crazy from living his whole life next to the cursed land beyond the cemetery.
Those familiar with Stephen King’s book and Mary Lambert’s 1989 version of the movie will be pleasantly surprised. Kolsch and Widmyer’s take on the story has an excellent beginning—not the slow start that can result from trying to explain the entire plot before the scares begin—and a surprise ending.
The fate of the cat on the busy road is not surprising, whether one is familiar with the story or not. When the Creeds turn to Jed for help burying their pet in the mystical cemetery, the fluffy and cuddly cat comes back with changed appearance and behavior, now a vicious, frightening wreck with matted fur, a family pet morphed into a family curse.
The concepts of grief and loss, integral to the story, are touched on while keeping the horror movie vibe strong with several jump scares. The tension builds from scene to scene as the family’s seemingly charming and idyllic new home is revealed to be a gateway to a mystical and cursed plot of land.
The visual effects help create a feeling that something is wrong with this pet cemetery that combines a childish charm (the misspelled sign at the entrance) with seemingly old ceremonial traditions (the children’s disturbing animal masks).
The best performance of the movie is from Laurence, who is both tragic and horrifying as she suffers the supernatural effects of the land beyond the cemetery. The overall result is a very watchable horror film. Although there are changes from King’s original story, it’s just enough to switch things up and keep the story interesting without alienating fans of the book.