Pet Sematary (dir. Mary Lambert, 1989 / Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, 2019) – In rural Maine, Dr. Louis Creed and his family discover the secrets of an old pet cemetery in the woods near their new home.
While Mary Lambert’s adaptation of King’s grotesque terror has long left an indelible mark, the new Pet Sematary cuts commendably deeper into the subject of grief.
Acceptance never comes easy for the bereaved. When the grieving are loath to let go, they become haunted by their guilt and regrets. Proclaiming that dead is sometimes better, Mary Lambert’s film adaptation of Pet Sematary brings these inner demons across the barrier in literal terms.
In rural Maine, Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) learns of a burial ground beyond the pet cemetery. He goes against warning of its dark magic and buries his family cat Church after its passing, only to witness its return. Tragedy soon strikes and takes three-year-old Gage Creed (Miko Hughes). But this time, Louis knows that he no longer has to deal with grief.
Cheating death invites but danger, and Louis never learns. Thirty years later, Pet Sematary gets a new lease of life and revisits his past mistakes with greater depth. They don’t come back the same. Noted differences justify the existence of this remake that unlike many, veers from source material to offer new perspectives.
Where the 1989 film doled out horror in iconic grotesque imagery, the 2019 re-imagining shows its fair share. A striking scene sees an elaborate funeral procession, where masked children carry a dead animal to the pet cemetery, which played more to ominous effect than any significant purpose.
Other changes serve more impact in part due to performances. When Rachel (Amy Seimetz) Creed speaks of guilt over the death of her stricken sister Zelda, we see her acknowledging the irrational fear of her stricken sister’s spinal deformity. Alyssa Brooke Levine presents a far more sympathetic portrayal than Andrew Hubatsek’s reductive spiteful caricature, played off mostly for fright.
More striking is in whom returns. Resurrection is reserved for the older sibling Ellie (Jeté Laurence), whose grim realisation of her death proves much more harrowing than a toddler’s infantile ignorance. Part of the child remains too. She still comfortably steps in tune to the old Nutcracker ballet, even as she possesses an otherworldly violence towards what she has become.
How much of Ellie is left in her? Can Rachel still bring herself to love her ill daughter, the way she never could with Zelda? There are interesting things that the new Pet Sematary says in Ellie’s final moments with her father, before the nuance fades and the killings take over.