Every year it seems we're faced with the premise that some studio is going to drop an adaptation of one or more of Stephen King's stories. This time it's back to a new version of his 1983 novel Pet Sematary with a script by authors Jeff Buhler (Nightflyers) and David Kajganich (Suspiria) from a story by 1408's Matt Greenberg, and directed by feature film newcomers Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch.
It was a fresh opportunity to revisit a story that hasn't been taken to the screen for a full three decades and while it's a solid outing, it fails once again to capture the point of the original story- reducing what could have been great to simply serviceable.
The story has been revised both times it stepped off the pages, which keeps things at least a little fresh for those familiar with the plot. The main premise remains the same: the Creed family is moving from Boston to the small town of Ludlow, Maine. Louis Creed (played by Jason Clarke) has been a nighttime ER doctor in the big city, and the move is to help him pick up a job as a local university medical center so he can have more time with his family of wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and children Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (played by twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie).
Out back of the Creed's new rural home is a wooded area which happens to have the area's pet cemetery. When Ellie comes across it, she also encounters their neighbor, Jud Crandall (John Lithgow). There's still the road that runs alongside the Creed's property that has tanker semi's flying past at high speed without warning on a regular basis. When the family cat, Church, is killed and Jud takes Louis beyond the cemetery and things start to get moving, the tension and scares are at least effective.
Most of the story beats are still in play, and to the script's credit, in most cases they're all pivoted enough to at least deserve a nod to not just directly redoing what's already been done. It's not to say that it always works, but at least they did try, and the direction and cinematography is handled with a deft hand. The casting does lift the film from being just a pseudo-zombie slasher to at least a bit of a character study.
Even with solid performances through, the standout performance hands down goes to Jeté's Ellie. Her delivery in the second half in the film oozes menace.
Where the film falters is the fact that the original story is arguably one of King's best works. It's a study in duty to family, and in particular as King often did in that era of his stories, it was about the obligation of the patriarchal figure in a family to protect and preserve the stability and continuity of the home. The lack of Jud having a wife as a character in the film eliminates his motivation to help the Creeds when Church dies is shifted from repayment of a debt to a, "the power compels me," kind of trope.
At 101 minutes long, I would have loved to see what they could have done with a full two hours or more. There's times when letting a story breathe can bring back in some of the texture and impetus that has to be dropped when a film is so short. If you want just a straight horror film with some solid performances, this will very much fit the bill. If you're looking for the study in a family turning in on itself and corrupting from within (and the best ending of all three versions), then stick to pulling the book back off the shelf and diving back in.
Not everything needs to be remade just because it's next on the list, but at least this time they tried to put on some new spins.
Pet Sematary is rated R and playing in theaters everywhere.