Plot: Louis (Jason Clarke) has just moved his family to a new home in Maine, a lot that borders on the town’s busiest street, but is also connected to a massive plot of wooded land in back. As the family explores the land, Louis’ daughter sees an odd procession of children with a dead pet in a wheelbarrow. This leads her to the local burial ground for pets, populated with all kinds of crosses, but also close to a huge blockade of jagged wood, as if designed to keep people out. Louis also meets neighbor Jud (John Lithgow), who strikes up a quick bond with the family and serves as a kind of guide on what the town has to offer. When the family’s cat Church is killed by a passing car, Jud knows Louis’ daughter will be devastated, so he tells Louis about a special location beyond the normal pet graveyard. He is a little confused, but Louis buries Church in this strange place and the next day, he is shocked to discover the cat has returned, though he isn’t the same. What supernatural force is at work to reanimate Church and what darkness will it bring upon Louis and his family?
Entertainment Value: This new adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is better than the average horror remake, but never rises above that average mark and to me, felt like a made for television movie at times. The narrative is always interesting and takes some fresh turns from the original movie version, but it also bakes in a lot of nods to it and often plays into viewer expectations. I suppose I bought into the hype a little, as I was looking forward to a super dark take on the material, but Pet Sematary never goes down that road. I found this new vision to be rather tame, to be honest and while it was a brisk, solid watch, I didn’t find the scares to be that effective. The movie leans on cheap jump scares and sudden noises to startle, rather than building tension and atmosphere, which is a shame. The final stretch is much creepier than the rest of the movie, but it seems restrained and again, lacks the kind of visceral horror I had hoped for. The cat is less eerie this time around as well, as Church just seems to be irritated, rather than some kind of supernatural menace. I still found Pet Sematary to be a decent watch and it held my attention, but it failed to spark much horror magic.
The cast is solid across the board, but I wasn’t that taken with most of the efforts and the performances just came across as adequate. Jason Clarke was the standout to me, as he was a great choice for the unraveling father and he seem unstable from the jump. I think he handles these kind of imbalanced characters well and he certainly conveys the inner chaos to effective ends, as he is believable at all times. He is able to do a lot with just his eyes, but he also walks the balance well and only goes over the top when he needs to, which maintains the film’s serious approach. I just wish the rest of the cast would have brought this kind of heat to their roles, as the movie could have benefited from more memorable turns. John Lithgow was fine, but just never clicked with the role for me and it is tough not to compare him to Fred Gwynn’s iconic effort. This was a role that needed to be on point and while competent, Lithgow never goes deep with it. But Jete Laurence is quite good and especially toward the finale really shines. The cats also includes Amy Seimetz, Alyssa Levine, and Maria Herrera.
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