Remakes are rarely anything more than a cash grab, and the remake of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is no different, seemingly existing solely to capitalize on the recent King boom heralded by It and Castle Rock. This Pet Sematary, brought to us by directing duo Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmeyer, the team behind Starry Eyes, has been stripped of pretty much all of King’s grief-stricken horror and trauma-driven terror. The outline of King’s story remains, as the Creed family relocates to small-town Maine for a quiet life, only to find their new home plagued by speeding semi-trucks and a haunted burial ground. The new Pet Sematary makes some dumb adjustments for no apparent reason other than differentiating itself from Mary Lambert’s 1989 adaptation, but none of the unnecessary changes help poor old Church the cat. Church is still royally f-cked.
Church is a magnificent beast, a regal Maine coon (played by rescue cats!), who is, unfortunately, at the mercy of the Creed family, particularly the cowardly patriarch, Louis (Jason Clarke). The Creeds also include Traumatized Mother Rachel (Amy Seimetz), and classic dumb horror movie kids Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) and Ellie (Jete Laurence). Church deserves much better people, but he’s stuck with the Creeds, who don’t even realize that outside pets and living on a highway frequented by speeding tractor-trailers don’t mix. But at first, everything seems fine, except for those speeding trucks, which go roaring past the Creed homestead with all the subtlety of foreshadowing.
The first half of Pet Sematary is pretty good, very moody and foreboding, with John Lithgow popping up as Jud Crandall to warn the new neighbors about the haunted graveyard behind their house. Oh, not the pet cemetery where the local kids hold Wes Anderson-inspired funerals for their beloved pets, but the old Micmac burial ground, which is for sure cursed and Jud points it out as soon as he f-cking can, he’s just waiting for these dum-dums to die. Everyone in this movie has typical horror movie IQs—you can count on characters behaving in the stupidest way possible to guarantee their death.
Church is the first to suffer, the first innocent victim claimed by a so-called responsible parent thinking a house sitting practically on top of a busy freight road is a great place to settle down. No fences? No problem! This house is a steal. And because Louis is a total coward, Church is also the first to feel the effects of the haunted graveyard, returning from the dead all wrong, his thick and lustrous fur matted and dirty, his previous sweet demeanor replaced by an obvious demonic possession. Still, the Creeds are like, This is fine!
The movie does attempt to connect Louis’ inability to tell Ellie what happened to her cat with his terrible decision to bring Church back, but this Pet Sematary is not interested in grief and trauma the way King’s book and the first movie—adapted by King himself—are. This is Pet Sematary remade for the jump scare crowd, and while the jump scares are okay, it’s hard to root for a family made up of such magnificently stupid people. If you put up a sign that said “Come here and die”, the Creeds would walk into it one by one. And without the anchoring grief allegory, the movie is adrift, just going through the motions. Stripped of meaning and full of stupid people, Pet Sematary makes for mediocre popcorn horror viewing, maybe suitable for at-home viewing if you’re too lazy to find the remote. It’s definitely not worthy of the sacrifice of that Great Cat of Cinema, the proud and noble Church.
Attached - Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmeyer at a screening of Pet Sematary the other day in Maine.