Pet Sematary doesn’t live up to today’s standards of horror

By JUSTIN KIM | April 11, 2019

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SIEBBI/CC BY-SA 3.0 Actor John Lithgow stars as Dr. Louis Creed in the 2019 remake of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary.

The latest iteration of Pet Sematary opened last Friday, April 5 based on Stephen King’s original novel of the same name released in 1983.

Detailing Dr. Louis Creed’s family and their encounters with zombies in Maine, Pet Sematary serves as a warning to all Americans to ban outdoor birthday parties, arrest all tanker truck drivers, euthanize every cat in sight, chop down large forests and keep sharp objects away from little girls.

I am aware this film is based on an original novel by Stephen King as well as a 1989 film adaptation, but as I would like to keep my view of this movie separate from the source materials, there won’t be any comparisons here. For something to be a good adaptation, the source material shouldn’t be a requirement for a fulfilling experience.

Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and starring Jason Clarke, John Lithgow and Amy Seimetz, the film shows a small family from Boston moving into a house by the woods. If anyone knows anything about horror, they should know that the family’s days are numbered. Horror films really need to stop making forests the site of their horror, because otherwise deforestation may actually get public approval.

Within those woods lies the horrifyingly misspelled pet sematary, a spot where children come to bury their pets. What the family doesn’t know is that the grounds there also have the power to resurrect whatever is buried there; they soon find this out when their recently run-over family cat starts walking around again, albeit with rather CATastrophic results.

Honestly, not much needs to be said in terms of plot because it’s quite straightforward. People were complaining about spoilers in the trailers, but think about it. Happy families and supernatural sites never end well in combination. That’s the standard horror movie plot, right next to groups of drunk teens running into slashers. There aren’t too many surprises or twists, but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. Keeping things simple can still work as long as there is effort put into what is included.

And it does have some effort put into it. Despite being the most basic characters you could have for any movie, the family actually turns out to be quite lovable. 

One advantage of having a family in a horror movie is that the love and care they have for each other is generally quite relatable, so it’s easy to feel bad for them.

Unfortunately, while likable, my interest in them remains on the level of pet rocks rather than actual pets. Other than the fact that they are a family, there isn’t much depth to the characters, something that I’m beginning to get sick of in horror movies. The only exception is with Seimetz’s character, who has something akin to a backstory, but it’s used for nothing more than a hallucinatory scare tactic.

Of course, Pet Sematary isn’t the only movie guilty of this. Us admittedly has this issue too, as well as the extremely well-received Hereditary from 2018. The difference with those movies is that they either shook up and changed their family’s relationships in drastic ways, or they subjected them to unique and unpredictable horrors. These films work so well because they are unexpected, based in absurdity and horror we haven’t yet experienced.

This is the biggest problem with Pet Sematary; despite being a horror movie, the horror feels so... uninspired.

It’s not like the film is devoid of tension. There are some sequences where the shots are combined to a fair amount of suspense, but every single one of those are the “character walking around until something creepy happens” sort of scenes with no real flair to them. Those sort of sequences build tension by keeping the audience in the dark about when and what the scare is, yet here, the scares wouldn’t be out of place in a theme park haunted house. Effective enough, but nothing memorable.

And that’s only looking at the scary stuff that actually works. Some of the scares are outright laughable in just how cliche they are. Imagine a character in a room when the lights suddenly flicker. What do you think they’ll see when they turn around?

I thought the film could remedy this issue when they got to the meat of the story, the pet sematary zombies, but they turned out to be the most ridiculous part of the movie. The dead cat was fine enough, but the little girl’s performance after she is reanimated was straight-up corny, like she watched too much of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and was doing her best impression.

That came right at the climax of the film, which buried it even deeper into the grave. The climax of a horror movie is supposed to be the time where all the pent-up tension is released in a terrifying chaos, but with Pet Sematary’s final act, it was more of a dying cough than a fully fleshed out ending.

Perhaps I’ve been too spoiled by really good horror movies in recent years, like the aforementioned Hereditary or Us, but Pet Sematary feels so painfully average and bland. 

There isn’t enough depth in the characters to warrant a deeper investment, the story is plainer than bread and the scares will draw a surprised gasp at best. The film is ultimately hollow, and it feels like it missed a couple steps on its way to being, frankly, scary.

To the viewers that haven’t yet broken in to the horror genre, this could potentially be a viable starting point to get accustomed to all the standards of scary films. 

But to those viewers that are more experienced in the horror movie pool, this lukewarm mix won’t be enough.

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