It’s often said that its a more fruitful endeavor to remake a bad film rather than a good one: there’s more room for improvement, and a good chance to look better in comparison. But there’s one flaw with this mindset: there’s a lot more effort needed when you’re starting with something that didn’t work so well the first time around.
In Pet Sematary, however, I think producers have a potential gold mine. Stephen King’s classic 1983 novel, often cited as one of his most terrifying, was turned into a lackluster (but financially successful) 1989 movie; despite a script penned by King that hewed closely to his novel, what worked on the page simply didn’t translate to the screen.
Clearly, there’s room for improvement here. But while a new screenplay for this 2019 version is credited to Matt Greenberg and Jeff Buhler, the story is nearly identical to the one penned by King for the ‘89 adaptation.
And while the result is better staged and shot (by directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, of 2014’s underrated Starry Eyes), better acted, and better produced in just about every technical regard, it’s nearly a scene-for-scene, shot-for-shot, line-for-line remake that contains every narrative flaw of the earlier version.
Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz star in the new Pet Sematary as Louis and Rachel Creed, parents of Ella (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie), who have just moved the family to a new house just a few yards in front of a deadly highway that sees massive eighteen-wheelers constantly barrelling down the street at excessive speeds.
Because no one in the past thirty years thought it wise to build a fence, or put up some signs, or get the speed limit lowered or better enforced, the trucks that come barrelling down the street every five minutes have resulted in a well-stocked pet cemetery just behind the Creed’s new home.
But forget the safety concerns, I’m thinking – – how do they even sleep?
When the expected comes for the Creed’s beloved cat Church, kindly neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) offers some advice: forget the pet cemetery and take a hike out back to the ancient Mi’kmaq burial ground. There, Church can be resurrected – gross and zombified and downright mean, sure – but back anyway.
“Sometimes dead is better,” Jud tells Louis, a lesson Jud and the rest of the townsfolk learned the hard way decades ago. But apparently, it’s a valuable, if deadly, life lesson he’s willing to pass on to Louis to learn for himself.
While creepy cats and undead children may send shivers down your spine, the truly terrifying thing about both of these movies are those eighteen-wheelers coming down the rural street at what must be 90+ miles per hour.
While the 1989 version ramped up scenes of automotive terror with a cutaway every five minutes, the new film is more successful at create a foreboding sense of dread by hinting at the fact that death is coming right down the road.
And so, of course, are the undead. 2019’s Pet Sematary shakes things up just a tad by changing the identity of a victim (which comes genuine surprise, if ultimately irrelevant) and the already-dark ending is amped up even further. Still, the narrative of hopelessness is identical to the previous film, and without much arc in regards to story or characters, they’re both a drag to sit through.
If you need to watch one version of Pet Sematary, the 2019 movie is clearly superior. But that still doesn’t make it a worthwhile watch.