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Pet Sematary (2019)
Paramount Home Entertainment
4K UHD: 7/9/2019
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/3/2019
Every parent’s worst fear is to lose a child. (And if you dig even deeper, you’ll find that the fear of losing a child as the result of them having done something stupid is even worse.) Many stories have honed in on this anxiety, some doing so in an exploitative way. Stephen King’s 1983 novel Pet Sematary used this nightmarish thought as a jumping-off point and revealed itself to be a classic mixture of honest emotion and supernatural terror. (King himself has admitted that he considered shelving the manuscript, as the material was too raw.) In 1989, the book was adapted into a movie which was a minor hit and did a pretty good job of capturing the spirit of the novel. Now, thirty years later, Hollywood has gone back to the well, in order to bring Pet Sematary to a new audience. Was the return trip to the woods worth it?
Pet Sematary opens with the Creed family moving from Boston to rural Maine so that Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) can take a less-stressful job. Joined by his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their two children, Ellie (Jete Laurence) and Gage (Huge & Lucas Lavoie), Louis is looking forward to his time in the country. But, he learns that everything isn’t perfect in their new homestead. Due to the local refinery, huge tanker trucks frequently barrel down the highway in front of the house. And on a bizarre note, the town’s pet cemetery lies in the nearby forest. When the family cat is hit by a truck, new neighbor Jud (John Lithgow), shows Louis a mystical place beyond the forest, where the lies of life and death don’t apply. Louis questions this decision, but it helps to keep the children happy. When tragedy strikes again, Louis must decide how much he wants to challenge the laws of nature.
Pet Sematary was the first novel by Stephen King which I read (at an age which was most likely too young) and it blew me away. Overall, the story wasn’t all that original, but King’s combination of a deeply emotional idea and believable characters made for a read which was scary and memorable. For the 1989 film adaptation, King himself wrote the screenplay and the result was a movie which streamlined parts of the story, but retained much of the overall tone. But, it also revealed how the third act, which worked very well on the page, didn’t make a complete leap to the big-screen. Still, Director Mary Lambert managed to evoke some emotion and create some memorable moments.
When I learned that a new version of Pet Sematary was being made, I wasn’t necessarily surprised, as 30 years had gone by and an even more faithful adaptation of the book would certainly be welcomed. While the original film isn’t perfect, it is beloved by many and that fact, combined with the popularity of the novel, meant that Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, along with Screenwriter Jeff Buhler, had their work cut out for them. Having watched the film, it’s clear that the filmmakers were very aware that a number of viewers would be familiar with the original story. Therefore, they made some bold changes to King’s narrative. But, they also took some lazy shortcuts.
Let’s tackle that second point first. The first half of the movie covers many of the ideas from the source material, but it also plows through some important things, most notably the Victor Pascow (Obssa Ahmed) character. He plays a big role in the novel and to an extent in the original movie, but it’s almost an afterthought here. Also, the character development is somewhat lax, with Louis and Rachel coming off as stereotypes. (I watched this movie with a group who had both read the novel and seen the first film, so we were able to fill in the gaps. I can’t help but wonder how the uninitiated took in some of the movie.) This version of Pet Sematary took a chance and changed one of the major points of the story. (Which would have been much more shocking if it hadn’t been revealed in the trailer.) This actually gives the second half of the film some energy, as the viewer suddenly finds themselves in unfamiliar territory. However, this propulsion is squandered, as the third act becomes redundant and somewhat silly.
Following a pattern seen in many remakes and reboots, Pet Sematary shows a great look and a real flair for production design. However, Kolsch and Widmyer, who made the vastly overrated Starry Eyes, have been handed a daunting task here and they fumble it. Again, the big change is a risky one and it would have been even more effective if some work had gone into diverting veteran audience members away from the detour. The film’s biggest flaw may be that it’s never scary and only approaches creepy in some moments. (With the children’s funeral parade showing creepy promise which is never fulfilled.) Pet Sematary isn’t a complete failure, but it’s a true swing and a miss when it comes to capturing the essence of King’s powerful novel.
Pet Sematary probably doesn’t sit well with the ASPCA on 4K UHD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 70 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is impressive and the depth only adds to the crispness of the image. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The scenes in the woods provide notably good sound, as the stereo and surround effects really come to life here, delivering detailed sounds from all sides. The big trucks barreling by provide a jolt of subwoofer action.
The extra features for Pet Sematary are found on the accompanying Blu-ray Disc. The Disc contains seven DELETED AND EXTENDED SCENES which do not off a “Play All” selection. There are a few interesting moments here, but they mostly mirror things seen in the finished film. We also got an “Alternate Ending” which runs about 9 minutes and falls more in line with the original spirit of the novel. “Night Terrors” are three separate vignettes which show Louis, Rachel, and Ellie having nightmares about being in the woods. But, there is no context or set-up here. Are these deleted scenes? “The Tale of Timmy Baterman” (3 minutes) plays like yet another deleted scene, as Jud tells another story from the town of Ludlow, one which was prominently featured in the book. “Beyond the Deadfall” (61 minutes) is a very detailed making-of featurette which offers interviews with the cast and the creative team, as well as on-set footage which examines the locations and the shooting of certain scenes.
Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long