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[Review] ‘Pet Sematary’ Shows How Hard it is to Top a Classic

Jason McDonald

Remakes are a touchy subject, but remakes of adaptations present their own unique challenges.  Are you going to just redo what came before?  Are you going to do something completely different?  Or are you going back to the source material to create something more true to the source?  “Pet Sematary” faces that unique challenge, but does it manage to overcome it?

“Pet Sematary” stars Jason Clarke as Louis, a doctor from Boston who decides to move his family to the peaceful setting of Ludlow for a chance to get closer with his family.  However, Louis learns from his new neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) that his property contains a local pet cemetery and some tainted land that can bring the dead back to life.  Louis soon discovers, though, that the cost of bringing the dead back comes at a steep price.

If you’ve seen the original 1989 film, then I should tell you that the overall plot of “Pet Sematary” follows some fairly similar beats.  At the core of this film is the story of grief and how it can put you down a spiral of self-destruction.  However, there are slight differences from the original film.  Without going into spoilers, I’ll say that the story diverges from the old film in some unique ways.  And the movie does it in a way where, if you’ve seen the original, it’s giving you a wink and a nod when it diverges.  The changes are refreshing as they offer opportunities for the film to expose some untouched layers that haven’t been explored before.  In theory, they’re great twists, but in execution I feel like they didn’t take full advantage of them.

“Pet Sematary” has an interesting struggle as it tries to pull away from the original movie and do something different, but it ultimately can’t get too far by nature of being a remake and sharing one source material.  It’s a shadow it can’t quite escape, but at the same time it does do things that I appreciate more than the original.  In other areas it falls a bit short.  This movie has a lot of give and pull with comparison to the original film, but I think they ultimately wind up coming out fairly even.

I have to point out one particular area that I think will stand out for fans: the role of Jud. Fred Gwynne absolutely owned this role in 1989. His performance is iconic and it would be a big challenge to find someone to step into his shoes.  That being said, I think John Lithgow does a fantastic job in the role.  His Jud isn’t the same heartwarming figure, but is instead a heartbroken loner who tries to do good.  Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t dive far enough into the Jud character to flesh out this heartbreak.  This is another area where I think the concept is great, but the execution doesn’t quite live up to it.

What the new “Pet Sematary” does right, though, is that it manages to establish a unique creepy vibe that’s very different from the 1989 film.  It has excellent music that sets an unsettling tone and new scenes that will make you absolutely uncomfortable. In some ways this movie will leave a longer lasting impact on me than the original.

So is this movie a must see? That’s honestly a tough question.  If you’re an absolute fan of the original film, I’d probably say hold off and rent this one to see what’s different. If you’ve never seen the original or don’t have much love for it, then go see this one and see if it does anything for you.  I think it’s just barely different enough that it might offer something new for people wanting something more out of “Pet Sematary.”  It’s not a perfect movie, but it tries new things and succeeds in some areas while falling short in others.  In the long run, when I revisit the “Pet Sematary” franchise, I’ll likely be coming back to the original.  But for now, I find this modern update to be a completely satisfactory experience.

3 / 5 stars     


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