Few writers' influences have been felt so greatly in recent years then Stephen King, whose works have been adapted for both TV and film, and whose DNA can clearly be felt in the likes of Stranger Things. After the latest adaptation of IT became the most successful horror film of all time, a flurry of adaptations of his works have been set up for the coming years. Pet Sematary joins this roster, the second version to come to the big screen, after Mary Lambert's enjoyable 80s take.
At the centre of the story are the Creeds, who relocate to rural
Offering a noticeably sleeker movie then the previous version, directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer produce a functional horror film, stripped of much of the book's depths. The film is not without its charm, playing with the audience's expectations, and has some ghoulish delights to it. It has a gorgeous palette and noticeably classy look provided by cinematographer Laurie Rose (Ben Wheatley's long-time collaborator). This helps lull viewers into a belief that there may be something more going on here, which the film is happy to tease out with an interesting portrayal of grief. That is until a final third, where Pet Sematary goes big, shows its hand and begins to collapse around itself.
The cast give solid turns with, at times, clunky material. Jason Clarke is a compelling if low-energy protagonist, with the film struggling to convince us of his second half decisions. The loss of depth prevents an adequate build-up needed to make some perplexing choices work. Amy Seimetz does stellar work lifting a part that feels trapped between the rote wife role expected, and something a little more interesting, while Jeté Laurence has some fun subverting the expectations of her part, even if the film doesn't quite push it far enough. As expected, John Lithgow threatens to steal the whole film with his sympathetic, prickly take on Jud, the family's neighbour. Also top marks for some fabulous acting from the quartet of cats portraying the family's pet.
The very best Stephen King adaptations bring something of their auteur to them. As loathed as it is by the writer, Kubrick's The Shining is very much owned by the director. It is the same for the likes of Brian De Palma's Carrie and Frank Darbont's The Shawshank Redemption. This is what feels missing in this new take on Pet Sematary. It is a horror film that proves effective until it reaches its go-for-broke finale. But it suffers by being too respectful of King, and so remains functional as opposed to elevatory or revelatory in its relationship to the text.