As far as Stephen King adaptations go, Pet Sematary is certainly one of the better ones
Stephen King’s legacy as one of the best, as well as one of the most popular horror novelists is perhaps best attributed to the fact that no novelist in history has had more of his books adapted into movies. King’s greatest strength is perhaps his uncomplicated style of storytelling. While there are often underlying layers to his work, the narrative directness of his stories makes them tailor-made for the big screen.
Pet Sematary however, which serves as the 35th time one of King’s books has made it to the big screen, has a special place even in King’s vast oeuvre. Worried by the overly nihilistic nature of the story, King at one point had thought that the book was too scary to be published.
After a cartoonish, low-budget adaptation initially failed to do the book justice, studios have stayed away from touching one of the less commercial but truly scary King stories – until now. And thankfully, they kept the R-rating.
Dr Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) decide to relocate from the big city bustle of Boston, to the small town of Ludlow in rural Maine with their two young children in the hopes of living a more peaceful existence and getting to spend more time together as a family. Soon after arriving, the family loses their cat to a road accident, whom Louis resorts to burying in the mysterious burial ground located in the woods near the family’s new home. What Louis doesn’t know is that there is much more to the mysterious burial ground than what meets the eye, and when things begin to go awry, the sinister reality of Pet Sematary finally begins to take shape.
As far as King adaptations go, Pet Sematary is certainly one of the better ones. While the film does take some liberties with King’s work that are bound to rub some ardent fans the wrong way, it’s important to note that the film does very well at capturing the spirit of the novel as well as the core themes at the center of the story, which is why certain moviegoers will also find the film a little too pessimistic for their liking. But then again, you can’t make everyone happy.
Pet Sematary though, it has to be said, is scary. If anything, the film is a downward spiral into the ominous, and the nihilism on display is bound to leave even the most upbeat viewer feeling disturbed. The film is not particularly subtle and the scares come hard and fast even though the use of jump scares is varied. However, the manner in which filmmakers Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer immerse the film in an escalating atmosphere of fear and trepidation deserves to be appreciated. The rising tension sets the stage for the film’s audacious final act, which makes the bold choice of deviating from the novel and this deviation ends up working very well in the context of the film.
At its heart, Pet Sematary is very much a film about grief and loss. It is perhaps not as hard-hitting or complex as a film like Hereditary in its examination of these themes but it still explores them in a manner that resonates on a surface level, if not deeply. And what the film lacks in character development it makes up for in the form of performances from both, the lesser-known child actors as well as the seasoned pros Clarke and Seimetz. The latter two in particular are very good as the grief stricken parents and their strong performances allow the filmmakers to double down on its central themes and take the film into a more visceral direction once that feeling of sinister, impending doom has set in.
Ultimately though, a genre-film like Pet Sematary should be judged on the merits of its foremost aim, which is to scare the audience – and at that the film does succeed. Granted, the film isn’t exactly high-concept nor is it trying to do something particularly new or different, but it understands its parameters and limitations and does well to work within them.
All photos: IMDB
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