Directed by: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Screenplay by: Jeff Buhler
Starring: Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence
Running Time: 101 minutes
Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is a thing of terrible magic. Dark, grim and bleak, it is a novel so horrifying that even King himself was shocked by it, putting it in a drawer until contract obligations led him to reconsider it.
I find the novel to be King at the top of his game – a somber meditation on mortality and death with the type of fine characterization King excels at in his writing. It’s backed by a particularly nasty and visceral horror that packs a punch.
The novel was made into a film in 1989 – something I can’t comment on as I haven’t seen it in years – and now it’s shambling back out of the grave, helmed by the co-directors of the terrific indie horror film STARRY EYES.
What was immediately noticeable to me is the cinematography on display. From the opening overhead shot of the woods (Kubrick’s The Shining style) to the setting of the Pet Sematary – and beyond! – Itself. It captures the haunting isolation of the location wonderfully and makes good on establishing the character and rising dread of the place – fog lingers around forked and gnarled trees that form a barrier to the places beyond the graves. It’s all very atmospheric.
From there on in, the film moves briskly and busily from story beat to story beat and it’s here that some cracks in the screenplay start to arise along the journey.
The pacing begins to feel odd, with the film seeming like it’s just trying to reach the big important moments of the novel without taking a breath to meditate on the characters or even establish the relationships, say between Louis and Jud – or more importantly Jud and Ellie. Elements that made the novel so impactful.
I understand the power of a novel lies in the fact that one can sit down and spend, as much time with the characters that a film doesn’t have the luxury to allow but this is a film that could’ve benefited from an extra fifteen minutes, say, in the third act to let the dread simmer, let the characters talk and let the themes ruminate with the audience.
The script issues extend to the cast as well. Jason Clarke is a fantastic Louis Creed – but the screenplay paints him as cold and distanced even before the dreams of Victor Pascow.
John Lithgow seems to embody Jud Crandall – but the warmth of that character is strangely missing, replaced with a bit of an edge. He’s also sadly undeveloped, his relationship to the setting barely touched upon.
Amy Seimetz is the perfect Rachel, but it’s her relationship with Louis that feels like it’s left on the editing room floor. I feel, as terrific as she is in her role, in Rachel’s terrible grief, their relationship could’ve had more scenes beyond what feels like expository moments.
Jeté Laurence, who plays Ellie, is the highlight of the film, her expressive eyes mulling over death heartbreaking. Laurence, of course, plays different sides to Ellie too, the latter being a rotting, awful incarnation – all-seeing, all-knowing evil. Her eyes, in those moments, speak volumes.
The musical score by horror veteran Christopher Young is quite good too – providing a balance between the dreamscape and the nightmares, walking the line between light and dark.
You see, Pet Sematary has all these excellent elements – a fantastic cast, a stylish, almost operatic direction and a musical score to slice out an edge – but it’s the script that, like poor Louis Creed, doesn’t fully realize the power of that place.
J’s Verdict: ☆☆½