Review: Jerry Reviews PET SEMATARY and Asks the Dangers of Playing God
It's a strange thing, death. We spend our days running from it, asking ourselves what awaits us when we breathe our last breaths. Whether it's a place above the clouds or a finite ending within the ground, it comes for us all and it's unavoidable. Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer's Pet Sematary does an excellent job of not only adapting the classic Stephen King novel but also in addressing the topic of death and how dangerous it can be to play God, so to speak.
It's inevitable to face comparisons to Mary Lambert's 1989 adaption of the same material, but what Kolsch & Widmyer's film so well, is live on its own, never feeling like its just retreading material we've previously seen. Giving us an excellent script by The Prodigy scribe Jeff Buhler (screen story credit is given to Matt Greenberg as well), Pet Sematary feels very unique to itself right from the get-go. We're given a fresh take on the family Creed, led by Louis Creed (a phenomenal Jason Clarke) and his wife, Rachel (The Sacrament/You’e Next's Amy Siemetz), who along with their young children Ellie and Gage, relocate themselves to a quiet existence in Maine, as a new start away from the busy and hectic Boston. The move, we soon find out, was something that was needed for Louis and Rachel, a chance to quiet down their lives and to focus on their family together. We're given such good performances by Clarke and Siemetz, that we BELIEVE the characters, the chemistry is as good as it gets with the pair and with such a top-notch supporting performance from Jete Laurence as Ellie, it's incredibly easy to become invested in the family right away. While moving stuff in, we see that the road in front of their new quiet residence can be vicious, with semi trucks speeding through at breakneck speeds, leading to Ellie's discovery of a nearby area full of buried pets and casualties of the dangerous road. We're also given an introduction to Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), an elderly neighbor of the Creeds, and a man who seems to know an awful lot about the Pet Sematary and what lies behind it, a secret kept behind a large wall of branches and obstacles.
What Pet Sematary is, in a lot of ways, is a great look and examination of death and its inevitable arrival, something that causes Louis and Rachel an argument or two, when approaching the realities of what happens when we pass on and having to explain to Ellie that her pet cat, Church, has been hit by a truck. While Rachel wants to give the typical "animal heaven" angle when explaining, Louis, the town's doctor now, insists on the scientific explanation of when we die, we're done, fertilizer, so to speak. It's that lack of giving a thought to anything after death, that leads to some dark places in the film, when Jud, feeling bad about the killed Church, that he tells Louis of the secret Indian burial ground that brings things back. Seeing the opportunity to make his daughter happy again, Louis buries Church and when the cat comes back, albeit a pretty vicious animal, the question of not only COULD we go on after death, but SHOULD we arrives and becomes the film's central question.
We're given such excellent characters and the exceptional casting of Clarke, Siemetz, Lithgow and Laurence, is so compelling that it makes an already intriguing idea that much more enthralling, you feel for the characters to the point that when tragedy strikes and Louis is faced with the question of whether it's fair to play god and even if given the chance to bring a loved one back is asked, what is the right answer? There's a certain level of pain in Clarke's performance, that it's easy to feel the emotional devastation in the film, so when the violence and horror transpires, it is absolutely terrifying and infinitely impossible to forget, there's a punch to your soul with this one. Every actor in Pet Sematary radiates loss and grief, questioning their own beliefs and ethics, causing we the viewers to do the same.
Taking liberties with the source material might have caused online uproar based on a pretty specific twist in the plot, but it actually works much better than the 1989 adaption, the change in question adds to the emotional depth of the film and leads its viewers to a final 15-20 minutes that deviates from the book in ways that are not only acceptable but downright welcomed. Pet Sematary is one hell of a pressure cooker of tension, terror and a very profound question of what happens when we die and if we should be in charge of just that. While we're living in the renaissance of Stephen King film adaptions and we've received some quality entries as of late, it's without question that Kolsch & Widmyer's Pet Sematary throws the gauntlet down and shows how to adapt a classic book into a film that will, without question, be at the forefront of how to do justice to the terror of King's work. Joining the ranks of It, Misery and The Shining, Pet Sematary is one of the best King adaptions of all time and set the bar for future entries.