REVIEW: ‘Pet Sematary’ has scares, but lacks solid storytelling

Another Stephen King adaptation has made its way to theaters, inviting audiences once again to the wonderful state of Maine.

“Pet Sematary” is the second adaptation of the King novel, the other releasing in 1989. This film, directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, shares some similarities as the film and novel, while also featuring a few differences. Jason Clarke plays the main character Louis here, a doctor and father in a family of four who are relocating from Boston to rural Maine.

The rest of the family consists of Rachel (Amy Seimetz), Ellie (Jete Laurence) and Gage (Hugo Lavoie). Upon arriving, the family settles in fairly well to their new rural community. The family, by introduction from their neighbor Jud (John Lithgow), do soon learn that their property includes an odd cemetery for pets, though. The land is proven even more eerie after the family cat is killed by a truck and Jud reveals there are some areas where, if buried, dead creatures can be brought back.

“Pet Sematary” has some good things going for it in the first act but the film doesn’t finish as strong as one would hope. The movie does solid work introducing the ominous nature of the characters’ surroundings, with Louis having visions of a recently deceased man giving him warnings while Ellie and Rachel see a creepy ceremony at the Pet Sematary.

These sequences are put together nicely and it sets up a nice atmosphere, for an all around solid first act. But the film stumbles in the second act and ultimately has a third act that’s just OK.

There’s an accident occurring too late in the movie and the grieving process which follows comes across as rushed. While the accident leads to some interesting and disturbing sequences and concepts, they all happen so late and move too fast. One wishes this had been expanded for upon with more screentime to create a more psychological horror.

Speaking of horror, this movie does have one two many jump-scares. This is something harped on many times on this blog, but it’s deserved. Jump-scares just seem so unnecessary, especially ones in a story where the horror should come more from the cautionary tale its telling.

There’s one early on when the daughter Ellie is climbing up a structure in the woods and Jud suddenly appears and tells her to get down. It’s played as a jump-scare when it really wasn’t necessary, ultimately cheapening the experience.

There’s also a sublot with Rachel’s character that was in fact in the other adaptation, but it feels rather shoe-horned in here.

Despite the clunky story-telling, though, “Sematary” has pretty good performances. Jete Laurence deserves probably the most praise as she has some of the most important scenes later in the film. For a young actor she really pulls things off well.

Clarke, who’s always reliable, also does solid work here, by really portraying the multitude of emotions his character has to go through. Likewise, Lithgow deserves credit for a good performance as Jud, making the character his own rather than trying to recreate the previous version in the 80s adaptation.

“Pet Sematary” has frightening moments and some good performances, but the story execution never came together very well in this one and the number of jump-scares are excessive. 2.85 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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