A brand new adaptation of Stephen King’s most chilling novel rather than a remake of the 1989 film, Pet Sematary digs deeper into every parent’s worst nightmare and captures the bleak and nightmarish tone of the book.
If you’re one of the few that’s unfamiliar with the story, you’ll quickly deduce that the combination of a busy country trucking route, a pet cat, a toddler, a nine-year-old, and an ancient tribal burial ground with the power to raise the dead will result in a whole lot of misery.
Even King admitted he was frightened while writing this upsetting tale of a grieving father who transgresses a barrier that shouldn’t be crossed, and learns that “Sometimes, dead is better”. But is this new version better than the earlier film?
Yes and no. The 1989 adaptation, directed by Mary Lambert, was remarkably faithful to the novel (thanks to a screenplay by King) and didn’t shy away from the more horrific elements, but it never sufficiently captured the sense of dread conjured by the book, and was further hampered by some ropey performances and ’80s cheesiness.
In resurrecting Pet Sematary for a new generation, directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmeyer – who honed their horror skills on the underrated occult shocker Starry Eyes (2014) – bring grim atmosphere and a greater emphasis on the mythological nature of the burial ground, along with with some drastic plot tweaks likely to have purists hissing like an undead cat.
Kolsch, Widmeyer and screenwriter Jeff Buhler stick close to the source for the movie’s first half before adding a radical twist (unforgivably telegraphed in the trailer, so avoid at all costs) that ultimately alters the ending. It’s a bold move but it works, ramping up the horror and adding several unpleasant surprises to an already familiar story.
Just like the souls that return from the burial ground, Pet Sematary has come back markedly different. It’s nastier and more downbeat than the ’89 film, and as Stephen King adaptations go, it’s one of the best.
In cinemas: April 4, 2019
Starring: Jason Clarke, John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz
Directed by: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer