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First trailer and our set visit reveals for Stephen King's Pet Sematary!

Sometimes dead is better, but based on my recent visit to the set – along with the first trailer that just dropped – there appears to be new life in PET SEMATARY.

The April 2019 release, directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, is based on the 1983 Stephen King novel, which was made into the effective, if at-times quirky, 1989 movie (that also spawned the forgettable 1992 sequel). The trailer sets an appropriately creepy horror flick tone that calls to mind the novel, one of King’s bleakest tales, as well as the film.

For the uninitiated, the book follows Dr. Louis Creed who relocates with his wife, two kids, and cat Church from the city to the sticks of Maine. Louis befriends his new neighbor Jud Crandall, and when tragedy strikes, the elderly man informs him of an ancient burial ground beyond the titular cemetery. And what goes in that cursed earth doesn’t stay buried for long. And the new film, based on a screenplay by Jeff Buhler, stars Jason Clarke as Louis, John Lithgow as Jud, and Amy Seimetz as Louis’s wife Rachel.

So what did I see on my day on the set, just outside of Montreal, and how does it compare to the trailer? I can’t reveal everything just yet, and you’ll have to tune in later for interviews and a bigger breakdown, but I will say there is some damn fine production design happening with PET SEMATARY.

The glimpses in the trailer of the titular cemetery, and the deadfall beyond, is nothing compared to what I saw. Built in a clearing in a real wooded area, the burial ground is stunning. It spans time and feels as if children actually constructed it by hand, spotted with endless tributes to fallen pets and decorated with mementos such as leashes, tags and photos. Gorgeously haunting and imbued with sadness, this is a believable set. Meanwhile, the entrance to the deadfall looks like the doorway to hell, formed by dead tree limbs and gnarled branches that evoke a gaping maw – as if the cursed land is going to swallow one whole. It’s creepy, foreboding and perfect.

I watched filming of the Creed family arriving at their new home, as is shown in the trailer. They are happy, ready to begin a new chapter in life. Louis gets out of the car and proudly shows his daughter the house and the whole forest as her new backyard. The rural area is idyllic, peaceful – except for the massive tanker trucks speeding by on the road just beyond the driveway. I cannot speculate and did not personally witness anything occur on set, but I don’t think that road is particularly safe to be near for, say, small animals or children.

Moreover, I think John Lithgow is going to nail it as Jud Crandall. Fred Gwynne’s performance, and New England accent, is hard to top from the ’89 film, and Lithgow appears cognizant of that. Even though he can do a convincing one and his performance appears measured, thoughtful and avuncular; I'm excited to see more of it. In one scene I watched being filmed, Lithgow’s Jud was talking about fathers and family over a couple cans of beer shared with Clarke. It's a quiet expository scene that shows an unhurried manner to Jud, and speaks to his fondness of the younger man. (Fun fact: The 6’4” Lithgow was friends with 6’5” Gwynne, and said he was the only actor he shared the stage with taller than him.)

Without dipping into spoiler territory, if this film lives up to what I saw on set, it's going to be a scary ride. I get the sense the production takes King’s source material very seriously, while not being slavishly devoted to it and they are definitely not trying to redo the previous movie.

My overall impression is that this is a dark movie, with filmmakers willing to explore the novel's heavier themes (e.g. coping with grief; facing death). There is also a general awareness of what makes King’s material click on screen and what doesn’t — as well as acknowledgement of the classic visuals from the previous iteration of the story (I didn’t see her, but we did discuss Zelda).

However, my biggest regret from set is I never met the cat playing Church.

Watch this space for more to come from my PET SEMATARY set visit and check out the film for yourself (if you dare!) on April 5th, 2019.

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