By Ryan Keating-Lambert
The new Pet Sematary is one of the best Stephen King adaptations in recent years. Teeming with dread and suspense, it’s a horror nerd’s wet dream. It successfully reanimates its source material while still managing to put an original spin on the final act… plus it boasts one of the scariest cats in cinema history.
Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (Holidays), two young directors who are still reasonably new to the horror genre, Pet Sematary centres on the Creed family who move to a new home in rural Maine. After they settle in, Louis (Jason Clarke) discovers an unholy and powerful burial site behind the town’s creepy pet cemetery, which leads to unimaginable consequences.
Mary Lambert’s 1989 film adaptation of Pet Semetary was a reasonably decent film with decent scares, nostalgic ’80s gore and a SUPER creepy Gage Creed played brilliantly by child actor Miko Hughes. Although it didn’t meet well with critics, the film became a cult classic and even spawned a terrible sequel.
This new spin on King’s novel starts in a similar vain but certainly feels a lot more intense and relentless than its predecessor. Kölsch and Widmyer bring the story into the modern day with veteran action/horror actor Jason Clarke who plays do-gooder and family man Dr Louis Creed, who soon becomes a hot mess of grief and despair after he’s introduced to the ancient burial grounds by his neighbour Jud (John Lithgow).
Rather than being an open plain of bizarre spirals and rock formations, this adaptation creates a very claustrophobic, misty and all-round Evil Dead feeling forest that chills to the bone, complete with Wendigo screams and more. The cemetery itself is also a marvel of production design – built entirely from what looks like household bits and bobs, it’s the ideal setting for this horror tale that even King himself dubbed as going ‘too far’.
Cleverly though, the film puts a slight twist on the sensational final act, creating a formidable evil that although being rather tongue-in-cheek at times, is utterly disturbing. There’s almost nothing more unsettling than burying a dead child, and this film doesn’t hold back on the gory details.
At risk of spoiling anything, all I can say is that fans of the original may be surprised by the final outcome, not to mention the genuinely authentic performances by the Creed children, particularly Jeté Laurence – that bathtub scene.. yikes.
But the real star of this show is feline Winston ‘Church’ Churchill, played by shelter cats that have since become overnight sensations. The 1989 Lambert film had a British short-hair which indeed served its purpose, but nothing compared to giant Maine Coon kitties ‘Tonic’ and ‘Leo’ who I just can’t stop thinking about, nor stalking on social media.
Fans of the original will also appreciate the return of Zelda (Alyssa Levine), the back-broken sister that haunts wife and mother Rachel Creed (Amy Seimetz), who has several appearances throughout the film.
However, some may be disappointed by the way the finale pans out, which feels a bit rushed at times and doesn’t possess that bottomless pit of grief and sorrow that King’s book has. There’s also a different ending which some might find a bit too out there, but I bought it and am even considering going back for more.
Pet Sematary is a delightfully creepy outing that you’re going to love and remember for its unique atmosphere (and cat) which honestly puts it up there with some of the best King films. Go and see it on the big screen this weekend.