Let’s get this out of the way first. This is not the novel and the movie doesn’t purport to be the novel so we as viewers, myself included, have to separate the two in our heads. As an aside, Pet Sematary, the novel, has what I consider to be one of the best scenes ever written in it. Everything that happens at the funeral home after Gage’s death is written perfectly. (Yes, I know it’s a spoiler but it’s one of the great modern horror novels and it’s 30-something years old). It is the perfect scene and it is absent from this movie version. That isn’t saying this version is bad, but when the entirety of that scene was missing, something clicked in my head. I wasn’t watching the book filmed scene for scene and I shouldn’t expect that.
I usually go into movies made from books expecting to get a director’s interpretation of the source material (this includes Birdbox which is a perfect example of what I’m talking about) but for some reason I found myself expecting to see every scene in Pet Sematary the book depicted in this movie even though I know that’s not possible.
My expectation changed, I can look at the movie with a different set of eyes and evaluate it for what it was. A pretty decent horror film made from a great horror novel.
For anyone who doesn’t know the basic premise of the story, a quick synopsis of this movie version for you. Pet Sematary revolves around Louis Creed, a big city doctor who has moved his family, Rachel his wife, Ellie his daughter and Gage his son, to a small (you guessed it) Maine town in order to slow down and be around his family more. He takes a job as the doctor at the local college. They buy a house with a huge amount of land attached to it. On the land, in the woods behind the house, is a pet cemetery (spelled Sematary by the kids who use it). The Creeds adjust well to their new home and become friends with their neighbor Jud Crandall. Jud has lived in the house in Ludlow, Maine his whole life and tells the Creeds about the pet cemetery.
One day the Creed’s cat Church is killed when he is hit by a truck on the busy road that goes near the house. Jud takes Louis to bury his daughter’s beloved cat in the pet sematary but instead of bringing the cat there, Jud leads Louis to old tribal lands beyond the sematary. The next day Church returns to the Creed’s house. Though he’s alive again, it is clear something is wrong with the cat. Sometime after that, Ellie is celebrating at her birthday party and wanders out into the road where she gets hit by a truck driver not paying attention and dies. Louis doesn’t give much thought to the spot he needs to bury his daughter’s body. He sends Rachel and Gage off to Boston and buries Ellie in the tribal lands.
Separate from this storyline is the story of Rachel and her sister Zelda who died when Rachel was a young girl. Rachel was supposed to be taking care of her severely disabled sister when Zelda died, Rachel blames herself for her sister’s death. There are other small storylines in the book and some them appear in the movie but are not fully fleshed out.
The story of Rachel and her sister plays the biggest role in the move but isn’t explained very well. The book offers much more explanation as to why knowing about Rachel’s sister is important to the story and also bringing it to a resolution. The movie however seemed to use the story to add scares in the slow points of the film. This is where to movie I felt missed the mark a little bit. As I said earlier, the movie does not have to be the book, scene for scene, in order to be good. But at times I felt like the movie was trying to be the book even to its own detriment. Parts of the book were included, it seemed only to satisfy people who were looking for the movie to match the book.
Looking past that, however, the movie does a lot of things right, including switching the character getting hit by the truck from Gage to Ellie. It simplifies the plot and allows the movie to tell the story not just of Louis and Jud and Rachel but also the story of Ellie, making her a bigger part of the movie. I thought this worked great as did the ending which is far from where the book ended up but still kept me interested and made it seem more like a horror movie instead of a horror book. Overall, I’d give this version of Pet Sematary a strong 3/5 and would tell anyone even thinking about seeing it to go out and do it because it was certainly unsettling in some parts and that’s what I look for in a horror movie.
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