***THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FILM***
Pet Semetary (2019), for the most part, is a straight-forward horror film. With it’s stark horror imagery, creepy animalistic themes, and an unfolding family drama- Pet Semetary is a pleasing horror film. However, as a Stephen King adaption- viewers may be hungry for more.
For the most part, Pet Sematary is a standard film. Whilst I love the bone-chilling ending, most of the film is traditional horror flare. There is nothing wrong with horror- but part of the genre’s charm is that it can interrogate big and scary ideas. There is nothing like that here. Whilst the film hints on major themes of religion and ethics, it is frustrating that they are never really explored. The horror of Pet Sematary isn’t the zombie animals, but of grief and parenthood.
For example, Louis’ trauma from Ellie’s death never feels relatable or real. The horror of a parent losing their child would be unbearable and nightmarish in itself. However, in this movie- Louis is unsympathetic and has little interesting character traits. Great horror works when we see characters we care about meet terrifying obstacles. That’s why I praise the 2017 adaption of Stephen King’s “It” so much. We are invested in the characters. That’s why Georgie’s death at the hands of Pennywise is far more menacing and heartbreaking than any death in Pet Sematary. Because of that, I wish the writers took more time in making us care for Louis’ family.
That being said, I thought the actors- in particular John Lithgow and Amy Seimetz- were terrific, even if they were playing helpless characters. Jud (Lithgow) is an interesting character that hints at a greater story. If the film took more time to explore his motivations and thoughts, I think this would be a richer movie. Alas, Pet Sematary‘s flaw is that it skimps over the interesting parts. As I said earlier, I don’t think it’s a bad movie. There are some terrifying scares to be had here. And for some fans, that’s enough. However, it’s hard to see Pet Sematary– and not want more.
Revelations in the film regarding character’s backstories don’t resonate much. This is especially true of Rachel’s character. The story of her sister seems to exist to provide simple scares and to freak out the audience. It does not exist to create meaningful conflict, to add to the stories themes, or to improve tension. That’s why Pet Sematary, after watching it, I felt ‘what was the point?’ I walked away not feeling challenged by the movie. This is a shame, because horror has provided difficult movies for decades. We, as viewers, like to be challenged and enriched by the media we watch. Yet genre strains Pet Sematary. The film is alot more interested in being a standard horror film than being a meaningful addition to the genre.
However, if we are to view Pet Sematary as just that- a commerical horror film- then it’s hard to find faults. The imagery (particularly the masks and a dirt-stained ballet dress) is horrifying and the score sounds menacing. All of these elements contribute to a film that won’t change the genre. I respect that not all films are going to do that- but for a film to be truly great (and to get a high score) it does need ambition.
This film will please plenty of King fans- but it won’t remind them of what makes him brilliant.