Pet Sematary (2019) | 31 Days of Horror: Oct 25

by Jovial Jay

Boy, that escalated quickly!

Pet Sematary reimagines the classic Stephen King story, switching up some of the moments to keep audiences and fans on their toes.

Before Viewing

The trailer for the new version of Pet Sematary is pretty chilling in itself. It seems to be an updated version of the 1989 film, hitting all the popular beats from the original film. Shots include the misspelled sign, a scalpel, a speeding truck, the young boy, and a foggy path. How well does this remake re-execute the story?

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

Pet Sematary (2019)

Pet Sematary (2019) title card.

After Viewing

The film opens with a house on fire and bloody hand and footprints leading from a car to the front door of another house. Sometime earlier, the Creed family featuring Louis (Jason Clarke), Rachel (Amy Seimetz), young daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence), and infant son Gage (Hugo & Lucas Lavoie) arrive in Ludlow, Maine from Boston. Ellie and her mom witness a strange funeral procession for a dog in a path behind the house. Ellie discovers the Pet “Sematary” and meets with neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), who helps remove a bee stinger from her leg.

The talk of death and the pet cemetery reminds Rachel of her sister, who died when Rachel was young. She blames herself for Zelda’s death. At Louis’s new job as a doctor at the University his first patient is a student, Victor Pascow (Obssa Ahmed) who has been dragged by a car. He dies but delivers a personal warning to Louis to not “venture beyond” the Pet Sematary. On Halloween Jud discovers the Creed family cat, Church, dead and takes Louis to a special place to bury the cat.

Rachel doesn’t want to tell Ellie about the dead cat so they agree to tell her it ran away. She seems confused since the cat is in her closet. Louis confronts Jud wanting to know what they did. Jud tells the story of the native land and the Wendigo, a spirit creature, to explain why the dead return to life from this ground. The reanimated Church is different and attacks Gage. Louis tries to kill it, but can’t so he drives into the woods and releases the cat.

Pet Sematary (2019)

Rachel doesn’t appreciate Jud telling her young daughter about death.

At her birthday party Ellie spots Church in the road and goes after him. A tanker truck swerves to avoid Gage who also runs into the road, and kills Ellie instead. Grief stricken, Rachel and Gage go to visit her parents in Boston while Louis stays home. Jud warns Louis not to do what he’s thinking of doing, but the doctor drugs Jud’s drink, digs up his daughter and buries her in the land beyond. When she returns he is ecstatic, but she too is different.

Rachel, who is having nightmares of her dead sister, and Gage, who is being visited by Victor’s ghost, return to Maine thinking something is wrong with Louis. Jud goes to check on Louis, who is starting to question his choices. Jud spies the reanimated Ellie and races home to get his gun. She comes for Jud and kills him with her fathers scalpel after taunting him as his dead wife. Rachel returns home and can’t stand to be around Ellie, which upsets the young girl.

Ellie attacks and kills Rachel while Louis locks Gage in the car to protect him. Ellie drags Rachel into the woods to be reanimated. Louis comes after Ellie to stop her, and as he’s about to kill her the reanimated Rachel stabs him through the chest killing him. They then reanimate Louis and the three of them burn Jud’s house and come for Gage who looks on nervously. The ‘chirp’ of car unlocking ends the film.

If you’ve done something Louis, It’s not too late to undo it.” – Jud Crandall

Pet Sematary (2019)

Louis contemplates the consequences of burying his dead cat, just as he almost gets pasted by a speeding truck.

The 2019 updated version of Pet Sematary is a surprisingly enjoyable remake. It begins like the original but with a more modern sensibility in its cinematography and pacing. From there it proceeds as a similar adaptation, delving deeper into some additional character moments including Rachel’s fear and regret with how she dealt with her sister, Jud and Ellie’s bond, and Louis’s relationships with his family. But man, once that second act ends, the entirety of the film is changed! It’s a bold move to both switch up the events in the original Stephen King story and alter the moments from the original film. Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer (who directed a segment in the anthology film Holidays, reviewed last year) play the scene as if Gage is still going to get hit by the tanker truck, but switch it up at the last minute, wiping out Ellie instead.

Her death actually makes a little more sense in the ability to tell a more compelling story. When Gage returns in the original he’s menacing, but there’s very little he can do, being so young. Ellie, as a nine year old, has so much more ability to communicate ideas and emotions and Jeté plays her undead version so well. The grief presented by Jason Clarke and the relief he feels when she first returns fades quickly away once she realizes that she’s dead. It’s a very chilling moment. Using Ellie as the main focus of the story also lends a little more credence to Jud’s willingness to help resurrect Church. He has come to know and like Ellie, and is concerned for her well being if her cat were to die. Obviously, it’s still not the correct choice but at least it seems to flow a little bit better. And then having Ellie be the one to kill Rachel and resurrect her so that they can then kill and resurrect Louis is creepy as all get out! It harkens back to Louis’ line at the beginning of the film, “Church and Mommy and me, we’re gonna be around a long, long time.”

Pet Sematary (2019)

Jud explains to Louis what they did at the lands beyond and apologizes for his lack of foresight.

The one thing that I disliked about this version, which is hard to admit, is John Lithgow’s portrayal of Jud. Lithgow is an incredible actor and he does a great job humanizing the man, but his performance pales in comparison to Fred Gwynne’s performance in the 1989 version. All the other changes work surprisingly well. Unlike the one piece I had problems with in the previous version which was the flashbacks of Rachel dealing with her sister’s death, works better here. Originally it was a straight flashback recalling the incident. Here, the flashbacks are more pieces of Rachel’s memories, tainted by the guilt she has for believing that she was responsible for Zelda’s death. The increased screen time for these hallucinations also led to an interesting visual motif by the directors.

Death is very much visualized in a downward motion in this version of Pet Sematary. The dumbwaiter descending after Zelda crashed on top of it, the lowering of Ellie’s casket into the ground, and the dropping of Gage out a window to initial safety all tie visually together with downward moving camera shots. Some may argue that Gage’s fate is ambiguous, but after watching that ending, go back and look at the first two minutes of the film, with the car door open and the bloody hand and footprints leading into the house. After watching both Pet Sematary films back to back, I can say that they both are chilling in their own way, and each of the time they were made. Some elements of the original seem a little dated now, but other moments can still shock the most robust viewer. The newer version takes a varied approach which also pays off in different ways while still being faithful to the theme of the story, which is “don’t be stupid and resurrect your dead child.”

Pet Sematary (2019)

Sometimes they come back, but not as good. Sometimes, dead is better.

Assorted Musings

  • The production used at least four cats to portray Church and get all the different performances needed.
  • In this version, Church dies on Halloween instead of on Thanksgiving.

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