Pet Sematary (2019): A Return to Slow Burn Horror

My main driving force in going to see this movie was derived from 2017’s IT: A movie that I enjoyed far more than I’d expected to. Between the two, it gives me hope that we can make another step in the direction of mainstream movies taking the horror genre more seriously. At least, as seriously as it’s been taken since colour was the standard.

Like IT, Pet Sematary is based on a novel by renown horror writer Steven King, and also like IT, there is already a well-known adaptation from the 1980s already. Not actually having any prior knowledge of the original, I was primed for me to get in there and see what this movie was about.

Set in the small town of Ludlow, Maine (of course), the story follows the Creed family, as they move from Boston to a large country house in hopes to slow down and live the quieter life. As a doctor at the college’s clinic, things take a strange turn right away for Louis (Jason Clark) and they quickly become embroiled in the ancient history and legends of the town, all surrounding the pet “sematary” on the edge of their property.

Pet Sematary (2019): A Return to Slow Burn Horror
Jason Clark as Louis Creed and John Lithgow as Jud Crandall

After their family cat is hit by a truck, the kindly neighbour; Jud (John Lithgow) takes Louis beyond the sematary, the ancient Indian burial ground. Despite being a man of science and logic, Louis sees the unexplainable with his own eyes as the cat returns to them, although with a much darker personality.

This is a pretty well told story, so many of you will know where this inevitably is leading. While a more classical style horror movie, given the twists and turns the story takes takes, the real core of the story is about grief. How it can wear you down, warp and twist your mind and turn you into a far worse monster than resurrected serial killers.

Jason Clark carries this movie fantastically. While not playing the most dynamic personality, he manages to convey the real soul of his character through his eyes. The grief at the loss of his daughter, the determination and certainty of a knowledge at what he is planning to do afterwards, and then the glint of madness within them after his daughter is returned to him.

The range of emotion he is able to put forward through just those eyes alone is fantastic.

Pet Sematary (2019): A Return to Slow Burn Horror
Jeté Laurence as Ellie Creed

This slow decline of his character is helped significantly by the slower pace of the movie itself. The movie caught some flak from mainstream critics because of its slower pace, but a movie like this doesn’t work anywhere near as well when it rushes through events. And personally, I appreciated it all the more for doing so.

The slow introduction and ingratiation of the family made me enjoy being with them on screen, and makes their fall all the more effective. Horror works far better when it’s making of the most of it’s mood, creating dread more than fear.

Which is what you get from a never ending series of jump scares, which sadly the movie does still rely on somewhat. But that doesn’t seem to be a thing that’s going anywhere at this point. That’s just my pet peeve though, those moments leading up to a jump scare always take me out of the movie, because they make me acutely aware that I’m watching one.

Pet Sematary (2019): A Return to Slow Burn Horror
Amy Seimetz as Rachel Creed

My other major issue with the movie is the B plot involving Rachel Creed (Amy Seimetz) and her unresolved issues with the death of her sister. While this plot point was a part of the book and a source of conflict between the couple, a science vs. religion debate concerning the afterlife, it doesn’t feel like it contributes all that much to this movie.

Her visions and flashbacks of her deformed sister nagging at her throughout the movie felt a little arbitrary, and silly. As the crippled sister felt a little bit too much “monster movie” for the rest of what was going on in the movie, which was trying to play itself relatively straight. It ended up feeling like padding, whether it was a part of the source material or not. Never really giving Rachel any resolution to the plot of her grief or guilt regarding her sister.

Pet Sematary (2019): A Return to Slow Burn Horror
Handsome Cat

This was another of Steven King’s best horror stories, and was brought back with some pride and seriousness to it. Avoiding the campy nature that many movies in the genre can’t seem to get away from, for the most part anyway.

Both Jason Clark and Jete Laurance as the daughter; Ellie were the best parts of this movie for me. While it might not have affected me as much as IT did, it was a perfectly enjoyable movie all the same, one that does change up the events from the book enough to warrant giving it a watch.

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