PET SEMATARY (2019) Reviews and overview

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‘Sometimes dead is better’

Pet Sematary is a 2019 American supernatural horror film directed by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch (Scream: The TV series; Holidays ‘Valentine’s Day’; Starry Eyes) from a screenplay written by Jeff Buhler (Grudge; Jacob’s Ladder remake; The Prodigy; The Midnight Meat Train), based on Stephen King‘s 1983 novel of the same name. Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, Mark Vahradian, and Steven Schneider produced.

The Alphaville Films-Paramount Pictures production stars John Lithgow, Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz.

Entertainment Weekly interviewed Stephen King about his novel, the 1989 movie version and the new adaptation. His verdict?

“It’s f—ing great. It’s a really good movie. It’s a grown-up, adult kind of movie. It’s not like twelve semi-clad teens get killed in a summer camp.”

[Spoiler alert – do not read this unless you have seen the movie]: Discussing the major change to the plot, King commented:

“It’s something different. They did a good job. Boy, I saw all the stuff that came online when people realized that it was Ellie rather than Gage that got run over in the road, and I’m thinking like, ‘Man, these people…’ It’s so nuts.”

King added: “You can take Route 301 and go to Tampa, or you could take Route 17 and go to Tampa. But both times, you’re gonna come out at Tampa!” he said, laughing. “It didn’t change anything for me. I thought, ‘Okay, I understand why they did it because it’s maybe easier to work with a zombie when she’s a little girl than a toddler.’”

Doctor Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) moves his family to Maine, where he meets a friendly local named Jud Crandall (John Lithgow). After the Creeds’ cat is accidentally killed, Crandall advises Louis to bury it in the ground near the old pet cemetery.

Amy Seimetz as Rachel, Hugo Lavoie as Gage, Jason Clarke as Louis and Jeté Laurence as Ellie in PET SEMATARY, from Paramount Pictures

The cat returns to life, however, its personality is changed for the worse. When Louis’ son, Gage, dies tragically, Louis decides to bury the boy’s body in the same ground despite the warnings of Crandall and Louis’ visions of a deceased patient…

Having premiered at the SXSW festival, the ‘R’ rated Pet Sematary was on general release from April 5, 2019. As well as a standard release, the film was also be released in the 4DX immersive cinema format.

Pet Sematary was released by Paramount Pictures on Digital on June 25th and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on July 9th 2019. Special features include an alternate ending:

  • Beyond the Deadfall – four-part making-of featurette
  • Resurrection – Directors, screenwriters and cast discuss bringing this classic back to life
  • The Final Resting Place—A deeper look into finding the right location for the terror to unfold
  • The Road to Sorrow— Inside the film’s tragic themes and creating the iconic cat Church
  • Death Comes home—Unearth the creepy elements behind the climax and final scenes of the film
  • Night Terrors – Family Haunting Visions:
  • Louis
  • Rachel
  • Ellie
  • The Tale of Timmy Baterman
  • Alternate ending
  • Deleted and extended scenes

Reviews [may contain spoilers]:

“Kolsch and Widmyer don’t bother retreading the story we know and instead give us something far more satisfying in its own right. Instead, they give us a story so bone-chilling, so substantial, and even with a little bit of humor to alleviate the brutal blow of abject terror. It honors every bit of King’s meditation on death and grief while retaining its own identity.” Bloody Disgusting

“Pet Sematary evokes the feeling that Widmyer and Kölsch knew exactly what they wanted to achieve with this adaptation and fully committed with confidence. I applaud them for the vision and dedication […] Pet Sematary isn’t striving to be an easy communal crowdpleaser. Just like the source material, it’s a movie with a real thoughtful mean streak that’ll chill you to the bone…” Perri Nemiroff, Collider

“Directors Kolsch and Widmyer, best known for 2014’s Starry Eyes, create a creepy masterpiece with Pet Sematary. It is dark, it is brooding, it is foreboding. It takes the story of a dead child and a family’s heartbreak to an even bleaker place.” Alyce Wax, Coming Soon

Left to right: Lucas Lavoie as Gage and Amy Seimetz as Rachel in PET SEMATARY, from Paramount Pictures.

“Although the changes to the source material are guaranteed to polarize some Stephen King fans, Pet Sematary bucks the remake trap of simply paying homage to an iconic piece of horror. Instead, it makes drastic changes to the plot so it can ultimately go more complex with its themes. That’s a hell of a trick to pull off. Sometimes, different is better.” Dan Caffrey, Consequence of Sound

“Sadly Pet Sematary really isn’t as good as Starry Eyes. Perhaps in part because the story isn’t new or even that great (sorry Stephen!), Pet Sematary is quite fun but very forgettable, though a cheeky final twist which could possibly even leave room for a sequel adds an interesting new flavour.” Den of Geek!

“Horror fans will be thrilled by the sparse yet unsettling gore as well as the elongated bouts of tension and misdirects […] Kölsch and Widmyer use their razor sharp abilities to craft one effective scare after another. Pet Sematary is the kind of horror film that genre fans clamor for.” Dread Central

“Gone is the horrifying surprise of a malicious toddler and the utter heartache of a parent having to kill their own child, and in their place we’re given a generic kiddie “slasher,” tone-killing wisecracks, and a goofy ending.” Film School Rejects

Pet Sematary balances humor, drama, and horror believably while exploring the inner turmoil of a seemingly ordinary couple; though the script does not go far enough in establishing their new life and dodgy special effects hurt some scenes. Happily, the cast makes up for these flaws with great turns, lead by Jeté Laurence, whose performance is reason enough to watch the film.” Film Threat

” …the book’s creepy premise justifies this modern second look, which proves to be a solid if not earthshaking horror pic built around notably good performances. It should benefit from the attention paid to King properties like It, though this film, happily, is more self-contained in its nasty drama.” The Hollywood Reporter

” …a fun and frightening film — if by fun you enjoy seeing characters go to hell and back. The movie milks its powerful premise of denying or outright cheating death for every gruesome bit that it’s worth. While some purists may balk at the changes and omissions made here, those simply looking for a horror movie as compelling as it is wicked should enjoy this new Pet Sematary.” IGN

“It’s in the third act that Kolsch and Widmyer’s ambitions get the best of them. The macabre poignance of the first two-thirds of the film swiftly devolves into silliness, ending on a note that is neither heartbreaking nor horrific. That’s a shame, given the 80 or so minutes that preceded it.” IndieWire

“By digging a little deeper into the source material and altering it slightly, this horrific tale of grief and loss is an unnerving decent into darkness. Smartly written and directed with a quick pace and a few discomforting images, this return to the Pet Sematary is certainly one worth taking.” JoBlo

“A solid and entertaining horror film that does a good job at subverting your expectations compared to the original film or book. The changing of the formula works well but outside of John Lithgows character the acting was underwhelming and made the dark fates of certain characters hard to care about.” Letterboxd

” …this isn’t a useless carbon copy of the original. However, maybe the plot remaining true to the original, as it should, slightly waters down the scares. While Pet Sematary is no doubt creepy AF, there’s no major scares – and the main one is totally ruined in the trailer.” London Metro

“The subtle feelings of uneasiness start early on in the film and gain a steady momentum before culminating in the third act. If you think you know how the film is going to end, I can almost assure you that you’re wrong. Though the scares are plentiful, nothing could have prepared me for the last two minutes of the film which received an audible gasp from the audience…” Nightmarish Conjurings

“For as impressive and smart as the film is throughout, the weightlessness to the drama keeps it just out of arm’s reach of films that masterfully examine loss like The Changeling, but the craft at least firmly plants it in the upper-tier of contemporary horror remakes.” The Playlist

Pet Sematary takes a place in the upper tier of King-based features because its creators not only respect the source, they’ve identified the important elements to keep in making the necessary distillation from novel to film. They’ve also found the right actors (little Laurence is terrific in a challenging role, demonstrating skill beyond her years), gotten the details right and even found a couple of pretty great cats to play the Creeds’ ill-fated pet, Church.” Rue Morgue

” …in spite of improving on every conceivable technical level, this new version of Pet Sematary fails spectacularly in the one department that really matters with a horror film, it’s just not that scary, and certainly nowhere near as scary as Lambert’s version […] makes bad decisions one after the other throughout the third act…” Screen Anarchy

“Anyone expecting the new Pet Sematary to play by the same rules is going to be both shocked, and maybe disappointed. The entire third act of the film in particular is wildly different from what King wrote so many years ago. Yet despite all this, I truly believe this is one of the best adaptations of King’s work.” /Film

“While the adult actors are all perfectly proficient, the real star is young Laurence, who has already featured in The Snowman and assorted TV roles. She is marvellous as Ellie, the sweet-as-a-button child who goes on a hellish journey. Partly thanks to her, the film sits neatly among the best movies made from Stephen King’s lurid library.” South China Morning Post

“Kölsch and Widmyer […] do a decent job of creating atmosphere, especially in a handful of dreams that position the audience for hallucinatory jump scares, and they intensify the frequent flashbacks Rachel experiences of her late sister’s last days, but there’s the distinct feeling that they’re not doing nearly enough to distinguish this version from the one that came before.” Peter Debruge, Variety

Pet Sematary is a terrifically scary Stephen King adaptation that finds steady footing and incinerates the sanctity of family systems […] Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer have already proven that they know the horror genre inside and out, but more than ever, the duo showcase how their cinematic manipulation carries voice and trademark.” Matt Donato, We Got This Covered

“Its terrifying story about death still leaves audiences with much to think about long after the credits roll, and the twists that lead to a new ending are fun to follow. Thirty years after the original movie frightened audiences, its source material has given new life to one of the best Stephen King adaptations in the past decade.” Monica Castillo, The Wrap

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