I will be honest, this English graduate has never read a Stephen King book. Now, don’t get me wrong, many are sitting on my bookshelf, but I have never gotten round to sitting down to escape into the horror guru’s mind. But if the storyline in Pet Sematary is anything to go by, then I don’t want to – it is rather fucked up! Nor have I sat down to watch the original 1989 version of the same title. So this review will not be concerning itself on which is the better version, reboots or sequels, or even the faithfulness to the source material – it will be based on my pure enjoyment of the film (heck shouldn’t all reviews?!)
So this is a horror film. So the typical tropes exist. Family move to new home in middle of nowhere. Parents are having a tough time. Kids are creepy as hell. The pet is sensing some strange shit already. Ambiguous older neighbour lingers around enough for us to believe he is the antagonist. There is a foreshadowing of things to come – hello a literal highway from hell. So the stereotypical story is set. And unfortunately, that is all the film is – one big horror cliche. Now granted, some of the storyline goes a tad haywire – I mean a child is literally brought back from the dead and is hell bent on killing her once doting mother. But this viewer wanted more.
We are treated to a brilliantly brutal hit and run in the hospital and the “I can see his brain” set up for a more gruesome tale than what was to come. Was there any clear link between that death and why the dead student then visits the youngest family member? Is there any reason for no one apart from him seeing him? Is there any reason for the mother’s sister to be haunting her other than for the money shot of a mangled body before her ultimate demise? Yes you scream. It is all about naivety versus disingenuous, good versus evil, heaven versus hell. But sadly this mark is missed. We feel that the student dying, the sister’s sad death and what is happening in present day are all just separate movies and stories waiting to be told in a far better manner.
There is little character development. The adults of the film are so one dimensional that sometimes it is impossible to see them on the screen. Where is the back story? Why are they needing a “break”? (Wait is this because of the sister dying and Rachel being so guilty over her death decades before? We have potential here people…) I fear the bloody cat has better progression than the characters do. We do not care about these characters so when they start dropping like flies, we have little to feel or no one to root for.
However, this is no fault on the actors. Jason Clarke is ever watchable and John Lithgow is a hoot, ALMOST hamming it up as the aforementioned neighbour next door. However, the real revelation is Jete Laurence as the ill fated Ellie. Playing it butter-wouldn’t-melt for the first act and turning into the murderous spawn from hell in the second really elevates this piece from going in the forgotten horror bin. It is rather unsettling watching her lying in bed with her father after she has been “returned” – we know Ellie ain’t gonna be loving her dear old daddy for much longer.
As I say, it is not all bad. Some of the biggest “scares” come from the long dead sister above. I for one do not appreciate boogie monsters and spirits coming from the loft or walls, so this kept me on edge for the running time. And indeed, the creepiness of the bloody cat is enough to make people go see the film. There are some beautiful visuals here, especially the sacrificial barren burial ground and the little used masks of the procession. But these moments are too fleeting to elevate this move to horror folklore, let alone cult status. Now I am not one to correct a literary master, nor some great horror directors, but could we not have just had the cat and all the other pets come back to life and kick up a shit-storm? I mean it is in the title afterall…
Best Moment: The hunting and killing of John Lithgow – poor Lord Farquaad
Best Scare: Why do dumb waiters exist? To make cinema goes JUMP of course…