Pet Sematary Closes SXSW

“Pet Sematary:” With dreams of a better life, the young doctor, Louis Creed, and his family–his wife, Rachel, their 9-year-old daughter, Ellie, and their 3-year-old toddler, Gage–move to their new home in the small rural town of Ludlow, Maine, alarmingly close to a busy highway. However, when Rachel’s cherished tomcat Church is inadvertently killed in an accident, a desperate Louis will reluctantly take his friendly neighbor’s advice to bury it in an ancient Micmac graveyard–a mystical burial ground imbued with reanimating powers. Despite the terrible results and insistent warnings, when tragedy strikes and one of the Creed children is killed, Louis returns to the 

Indian cemetery, hoping that, this time, things will be different. But, can the dead really return?

As the tag line for this movie goes, “Sometimes, dead is better.”

There are changes in Matt Greenberg’s treatment of Stephen King’s original concept. As the directors told the audience, onstage, following the World Premiere as the closing film of SXSW, “I was a big fan of the 1989 original. You know it exists. It was an influence on us.  There were homages, but there comes a time when you have to start making your own film out of it.”

Jason Clarke (Louis Creed) had not seen the finished product until this night. He described himself as “very proud and very freaked out” and said, “I enjoyed the experience.” When Jete Laurence, who plays Ellie in the film, was asked if she found playing her part frightening, she answered, “It was really cool.  I wasn’t that scared because I was one of the scary ones.” Jete, who plays Ellie Creed in the film, admitted that she had not seen the original 1989 film, which King wrote the screenplay for, saying, “I think if I saw the original, I might not have as many creative ideas.”

Amy Seimetz, who played Jason Clarke’s wife Rachel in the film said, “Having been in a lot of genre films, it was everything I want in a genre film.” She added, “I think what’s interesting about this is that it’s a meditation on the source material.  We’re all gonna’ die, so we can all meditate on that.”

One audience questioner wanted to know why there wasn’t more gore shown in the death scene for the child. Answered the directors:  “You gotta’ be really specific about how you show blood.  With the death of the child, the horror is reflected in the looks on Jason’s and Amy’s faces.”

Q:  How did the 3-year-old twins who played Gage (Hugo and Lucas Levoie) deal with the scary stuff?

Answer from Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer:  With them, it was all just playing—like it’s a game. They thought it was a game and had a great time.

THE GOOD

The film respects the essence of the novel, but refreshes it for a new generation. As one of the directors said, “Let’s get under the skin of what’s happening with death.” Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer said they have heard that Stephen King appreciates it when other artists bring their own visions into play. “It was validating to hear that he was a fan of the film.”

The mood of the piece is appropriately creepy. Music by Christopher Young is relied on heavily.

With actors as good as John Lithgow and Jason Clarke, you can rest assured that they will do a good job and the young co-stars also turn in solid work. I re-viewed the original film; the acting is far superior in this one, with the possible exception of Fred Gwynne as neighbor Jud Crandall, the part played by John Lithgow in 2019.

The question, as one producer referenced it when asked about fears when doing a remake, “Well, you know what they say about filming with children and animals.  Also, dogs train well. Cats—not so much. But we had such great child actors.”

Jason Clarke and Jete Laurence, (Louis & Ellie Creed) on the “Pet Sematary” Red Carpet at SXSW. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

That last statement was definitely true. Young Jete and the twins who played Gage did a great job, alongside three seasoned veterans—Clarke, Lithgow, and Seinmetz. The cat was appropriately diabolical, as well.

The set that represented the pet cemetery was well done, although you really had to wonder how the actors could climb the wall of sticks and brambles without fear of injury. There was a similarity between the 1989 and 2019 sets, although there was more of a cliff setting in the original film. (As well as Stephen King playing a minister in one brief cameo).

The end of the film will leave you pondering. There are endings that provoke thought; this is one of them. What will become of this family?

THE BAD

Filming on “Pet Sematary,” with Director Kevin Kolsch, John Lithgow, and Director Dennis Widmyer. (SXSW Press Photo).

While the music was good, it might have been relied on a bit too heavily for “jump” scares, at times. Some things that were used in the original film, such as a “ghost” person speaking about “the barrier,” voice-overs, and the crippled sister of the Rachel character were used again. Rachel’s sister in the original actually resembled a male more than a female. She is equally horrible in the remake, but there is a dumb-waiter brought into play that is ingeniously used.

The heavy fog was so thick that it made me think of the Academy Award of 1971 when the theme from “Shaft” was  played (as a nominated song) and the performer singing it (Isaac Hayes) completely disappeared under the onslaught.

There was also a lot of graphic violence during the last one-half hour. Audiences today may demand that. I always admired the Hitchcock touch. Hitchcock gave the impression of a knife being used to dispatch Janet Leigh in the classic “Psycho” shower scene, but, through clever manipulation, the knife never really is shown being plunged deep into the victim. Expect some graphic knife-plunging violence with this adaptation.

There wasn’t anything excitingly original or totally new being shown us, but the end result was a reliably creepy film which caused Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura to call the movie, (sarcastically), “The feel good movie of 2019.”

In baseball terminology, while not a home run, this was a double or a triple, buoyed by the fine acting of the cast.

VERDICT

As genre horror movies go, this one is superior to most. It’s no “A Quiet Place,” but, to use baseball metaphors, if not a home run, it’s at least a solid double or triple.

It opens wide April 5th.

Genre:  Horror; 120 mins.
Director:  Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer
Writers: Based on the Stephen King 1983 novel.
Screen story by Matt Greenberg; screenplay by Jeff Buhler.

Stars:  Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz, Jete Laurence, Hugo/Lucas Levoie

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  • 9/10
    Acting - 9/10
  • 8/10
    Cinematography - 8/10
  • 7/10
    Plot/Screenplay - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Setting/Theme - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Buyability - 8/10
  • 6/10
    Recyclability - 6/10
7.7/10

About Connie Wilson

Connie (Corcoran) Wilson (www.ConnieCWilson.com ) was the Quad City Times film and book critic for 15 years and has continued reviewing film uninterruptedly since 1970. She also publishes books (31 at last count) in a variety of genres (www.quadcitieslearning.com), has taught writing or literature classes at 6 Iowa/Illinois colleges or universities as adjunct faculty, was Yahoo's Content Producer of the Year 2008 for Politics, is the author of It Came from the 70s: From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now, and writes on a variety of topics at her own blog, www.WeeklyWilson.com.