Saturday, April 13, 2019

Movie Review: PET SEMATARY (2019)

Throughout my years as a movie lover, there’s been one genre that has always grabbed my interest, and that genre is horror.  I’ve been a horror fan ever since I can remember, from watching classics like Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween, to more modern day horror like Paranormal Activity and The Conjuring, and even sci-fi driven horror like Jurassic Park and Alien.  It’s the one genre where I’ll give just about anything a try, including remakes.

Most of the time, when people hear the word remake, it makes them hesitant about what they’re about to watch.  But for me, horror still grips me enough to get me to watch them, even if it's a film I loved.  And that’s where Pet Sematary comes in.  I love the 1989 film.  I’ve seen it several times and I can still remember being terrified as a child, watching it at definitely too young of an age.  So, when I heard they were making a new version 30 years later, my interest was piqued, and that interest skyrocketed once I saw the first trailer,

Pet Sematary tells the story of the Creed family, who move to Ludlow, Maine in order to become closer.  After the death of their beloved cat, their elderly neighbor, Jud (John Lithgow) shows Louis (Jason Clarke) a special burial ground way out past their house.  After burying the cat, Louis discovers that things don’t stay dead once in the ground.  However, they also don’t come back the same.  Then, after the tragic death of their young daughter, Ellie (Jeté Laurence), he decides to bring her back as well, and that may just be the biggest mistake of his life.

This is a great retelling of this classic Stephen King tale, and manages to take the amazingly horrific elements of the original film and spin them in a unique, yet familiar fashion.  A large portion of this film, at least on the surface, looks to be the same as the original 1989 version.  The family is the same, the neighbor is the same, the town is the same, even some of the dialogue and events that take place are the same, but it’s the way the filmmakers portray these events and characters that really sets it apart from the original, as well as the biggest difference... the death of their daughter.

In the original, Gage is the one who is hit by the truck.  They allude to this happening, but instead, throw a swerve our way, which was unfortunately spoiled during the marketing campaign.  But by having Ellie be the one killed, it allowed for more changes to take place, leading it down a different, yet similar path.  This choice allowed Ellie to be the one to resurrect her mother, instead of Louis doing it yet again.  This strengthened the narrative that the evil forces were controlling things in an attempt to return to this world.  And it made for a fantastic twist ending that I didn’t see coming and was disturbed, yet blown away by.

The movie wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without the solid performances by this cast. Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz did a great job as Louis and Rachel.  Even though, at times it didn’t seem like they had the right chemistry, this still worked well for the characters as they were supposed to be having marital issues, hence the whole reason they moved to Ludlow.  However, even though I liked their portrayals, I did have one main problem with the characterization of these two.  This is definitely a writing problem as opposed to an acting problem, but I didn’t like that these two people have been together for at least a decade (since Ellie is 9 years old), yet it seems like they’ve never really had the talk about what their beliefs are, as Rachel didn’t seem to know that Louis didn’t believe in the afterlife.  This is an important piece of information when you are with someone for the long haul, and it just bugged me a bit that it was just coming up now.

John Lithgow gave a great performance as Jud Crandall, their new neighbor who introduces Louis to the ancient cursed burial ground.  This version of Jud seemed much more nuanced and sympathetic than the original.  He showed remorse after taking Louis there, knowing what could happen.  He just wanted to help, to prevent Ellie from feeling the deep sadness of losing a beloved pet.  He was naive to think that things would be different now, and Lithgow did such an amazing job of showcasing that remorse and naivety.  He never once came off as creepy or sinister, but instead remained a sympathetic character, and one the audience could easily relate to.

But the stand out performance to me was from Jeté Laurence, who played Ellie Creed.  The role seemed fairly straightforward at the beginning; a normal 9-year-old doing normal 9-year-old things.  But her interactions with Jud showed that this actress may just bring something special to the role of Ellie... and then the twist happens.  Once Ellie comes back from the dead, this is where the performance skyrocketed for me.  Jeté’s ability to unsettle you just with a simple line of dialogue and a look was incredible.  Her turn as evil Ellie was one of the best parts of this film, and is what has caused this remake to fly ahead of the original.  She brought something that the 1989 version couldn’t have, due to using such a young actor.  Jeté was able to emote in such a way that it broke your heart while terrifying you to the core.  It was simply remarkable.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this film since I saw it, and that, to me, is the sign of something great.  Does it have flaws? Yes.  Does it have predictable moments? Yes.  But none of that prevents it from standing out as a great horror film and a great remake.  This is one I will be watching again many times, and I hope you will too.

The Merc’s Score: 9/10

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