Review: Pet Sematary

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

pet sematary bannerPLOT: A doctor and his family find their dream of a quiet life in small-town Maine ruined by a devastating family tragedy. This leads them to the “Pet Sematary” that borders on land that – rumor has it – has the power to reanimate the dead.

REVIEW: PET SEMATARY stands as one of Stephen King’s most instantly recognizable works, so it’s no wonder the not-bad 1989 original is getting a remake courtesy of STARRY EYES’ directors Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer. Certainly, it’s a classy production with its high-profile cast, including Jason Clarke, indie mainstay Amy Seimetz & John Lithgow, and had this come out a few years ago it would have no doubt seemed like a real outlier – a horror film done with taste and A-list talent.

However, it can’t be denied that the genre, which for years and years was regulated to the bargain basement (hopefully we never have to hear the words “found footage” again), is in the middle of a renaissance. Movies like ANNIHILATION, HEREDITARY, THE WITCH, GET OUT, US, MANDY, IT FOLLOWS, THE BABADOOK and many more are making this one hell of a time to be a horror fan, but also give PET SEMATARY some lofty expectations, especially coming hot on the heels of its buzzy SXSW premiere.

The fact is – PET SEMATARY is good but I must admit to walking away from the adaptation somewhat disappointed. In many ways, HEREDITARY is the film this should have been, brilliantly playing off the shared family trauma of loss to whip up a frenzied horror experience this struggles to duplicate. King’s story is indeed a tragedy, but too little time is spent establishing the Creed family. They don’t feel like a living, breathing unit. Even in Mary Lambert’s dated original, they came off as more of a unit than they do here – and I don’t know what’s to blame. Clarke delivers a solid performance as Louis Creed, the doctor relocating for his family, while Seimetz is note-perfect as his wife, who herself was traumatized by a childhood tragedy. Yet, like in the recent POLTERGEIST remake, they don’t seem like a real family – perhaps due to Kölsch & Widmyer racing through the story to deliver a tight, 100-minute horror movie, while a more character-based 120-minute one might have made all the difference.

One area the film especially comes up short is in the characterization of Jud, the friendly old-fellow living next door who unwittingly sets the whole tragedy in motion with his good intentions. You couldn’t have cast it better, with John Lithgow affecting as the lonely old man, but the character isn’t given the same warmth he had in the original, although going toe-to-toe with Fred Gwynne is a tall order. He could do more with a teary-eyed look than anyone else could do with a page of dialogue.

Another issue is that while we all agree that the 1989 Mary Lambert film is dated if this is trying to do its own thing than why are there so many teasing call outs to the original? Not only do they use a cover of The Ramones’ theme song, but they tease memorable moments like Gage’s infamous death (which gets a well-publicized twist here) and a few other scare moments they try to subvert – but then end up imitating them anyway.

In the end, this is a perfectly serviceable horror movie and if we get down to it – yes – it’s a better film than the original. Still, it falls short of my admittedly high expectations (the initial buzz out of SXSW made it sound like this was a classic in the making). It’s a fun night at the movies, but as far as recent horror movies go, it’s not really sitting at the top of the heap.

Pet Sematary



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.