Pet Sematary review John Lithgow Amy Seimetz Jete Laurence

Year: 2019
Director(s): Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Writer(s): Matt Greenberg
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 101 mins

Synopsis: A mysterious burial ground feeds on a family’s grief.

Death and loss are part of an unsaid universal language. No matter who we are or where we come from, they’re lifelong constants, hiding beneath every thought and striking when we least expect. Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer bring this primal understanding to Pet Sematary. Highlighting existential angst alongside genuine scares, the two have twisted Stephen King’s timeless story into something new. In fact, this thing is so dark and unforgiving, it feels at odds with most by-the-number major studio horror pics. Instead, Kolsch and Widmyer’s latest is more in line with recent indie greats like Hereditary, or Babadook. It’s as much about accepting pain and trauma than it is about showing it in graphic detail. Armed with some killer performances and palpable atmosphere, this latest take is the strong stuff, and it isn’t here to mess around.

Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) have just relocated with their children, Ellie (Jete Laurence) and Gage (Hugo Lavoie), to a new home in rural Maine. Their intention is to get away from the big city, allowing more time with the kids. Their new home is everything one could hope for, peaceful, semi-remote and close to nature. It also just happens to include a what the locals have dubbed the Pet Sematary, where all the town’s dead pets are laid to rest. After a horrifying event, the land around the Creed residence reveals itself to be much more than originally thought.

Without a doubt, Kolsch and Widmyer’s focus on character is what makes their latest take stand out. The family dynamic is front and center, deepening King’s original story in ways that are piercing and inescapable. Each member gets equal play as their surroundings and internal struggles manifest into psychological and physical shocks. In turn, the scares feel like they’re fully integral to these characters and their struggles. Each set piece is spaced out organically, slowly building to a cacophonous blend of existential dread and pure savagery. Since the film earns its terror, the emotion and catharsis go a really long way. In the end, some smart liberties make the entire affair feel fresh. Purists may feel conflicted, but each change is reverent and bold, pinpointing the primal angst of King’s text and amplifying them to near-unbearable heights.

Pet Sematary review John Lithgow Jason Clarke

Naturally, a story as deep as this wouldn’t work without the strength of its ensemble, and there isn’t a weak link here. At the head, Jason Clarke’s Louis is the perfect entry point. Clarke is instantly relatable, delivering a caring father who we can tell is willing to do anything for this family. He is the story’s backbone. Despite a supporting role, Amy Seimetz’s Rachel gets her own story, detailing past trauma alongside her present day grief with smart context. In another inspired move, Ellie is punched up and brought to life with aplomb by Jete Laurence. Laurence is possibly the film’s heart, connecting its bloody threads with a precocious and smart character. Laurence gives the story’s themes the maturity they need, and what she brings to the film’s third act is really something special. Lastly, John Lithgow’s Jud Crandall adds an outside perspective. His story lines up with the Creeds in interesting ways, allowing Lithgow to flex and add more texture to an already rich cast.

Even if you know the story of Pet Sematary or have seen the original film, there’s still a lot of new iconography here. Church the cat in particular is going to send shivers down a lot of spines, while an impressionistic mythology will keep viewers on their toes. Kolsch and Widmyer have really went all the way on this one. This is the proper way to translate a classic story for a new generation. It doesn’t ignore its roots, but also isn’t a slave to them. Above all, this film is proof that the scariest thing we can experience as humans, is the existential anguish of losing a loved one and not being able to do a single thing about it.

SG