The new adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary has been released by Paramount Pictures on April 5th 2019.
The movie was directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and written by Jeff Buhler.
Pet Sematary casts Jason Clarke as doctor Louis Creed who moves, together with his wife, Rachel, played by Amy Seimetz, his two children, Ellie and Gage and the family cat, Church (short for Winston Churchill) to the small town of Ludlow, Maine. The cast also features John Lithgow (famously known as Dick Solomon from the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun) as Jud Crandall, the Creed’s family next-door neighbour.
The movie discloses some of its gruesome nature in its very first scene, as it opens with a front shot of the Creeds’ home front door painted in blood as their porch is covered with bloody footprints.
Louis Creed and his wife have agreed to move away from Boston to rewind and get away from the turmoil of the big city. Upon relocating, they learn that their new property includes a plot of land which is used by the locals to bury their pets. Just as they arrive at the house, they run across a dog’s burial procession.
Ellie, nudged by her curiosity, wanders off into the woods following the procession only to find herself faced with a made-up fence built out of branches and stones and tips over trying to climb it. It is at that point that Ellie makes the acquaintance of their neighbour Jud, who warns her not to venture alone in the woods as it is dangerous.
Instead of the peace and quiet they expected upon moving to Ludlow, Louis and Rachel seem to be faced with a series of events that take a turn for the worse.
Louis, who works as a doctor at the university hospital, is unable to save the life of Victor Pascow, a student who is brought to him after being hit by a car. After Victor Pascow’s death, Louis is haunted by what he initially considers nightmares, in which Pascow appears to warn Louis not to “cross the barrier”. In the morning after the dream, Louis wakes up in his bed to find his feet smudged with dirt, as a disquieting testimony that the dream that he had seemed to be more than just a mere nightmare.
On Halloween, Jud calls Louis over to show him that Church, Ellie’s cat, had been hit by a truck and takes Louis to burry Church in the land beyond the Pet Sematary, which was used as an ancient burial ground by the Micmac Indians.
Sometimes Dead is Better
The strange nature of the burial ground beyond the Pet Sematary only becomes evident when Church returns alive, but strikingly different. Church has emerged out as aggressive, as he both scratches Ellie and tries to attack Gage. Thereupon, Louis, who initially thinks of inoculating Church with morphine (as he does also in the book), decides against it and finally takes Church to a distant part of the forest, where he abandons it.
Ellie, thinking that Church has run away, is overwhelmed by guilt because she chased Church away from her bedroom and cannot seem to enjoy her birthday party. She wanders away from the party to play hide and seek and, while Louis is blindfolded, Gage also runs towards the highway.
Averted by the others, Louis sees Gage running towards the highway and starts running after the boy in an attempt to catch him.
The Plot Twist
In a masterful twist of events compared both to the book and to the initial adaptation of the book that came out in 1989, Louis manages to save Gage, while Ellie, seeing Church on the highway and trying to approach it, is hit by a tanker truck.
Desolated and unable to spend time in that area while grieving, Rachel decides to take Gage and stay with her parents for a while.
While staying at her parents’ house, Rachel is haunted by the memories of her sister’s death during her childhood. Zelda, Rachel’s sister, who has suffered from spinal meningitis, has died while falling in the shaft of the small elevator that Rachel had used to send food to the upper floor. Rachel has ever-since been plagued by guilt over her sister’s death and coming back to the house reactivates her traumatic memories.
Despite Jud’s repetitive warnings that “sometimes dead is better”, Louis, out of his mind with grief, decides to exhume Ellie’s body and burry it in the ancient Indian ground beyond the Pet Sematary behind the Creeds’ house.
As expected, Ellie returns from the dead but is not the same sweet girl that she was while being alive. Jud, who wakes up from a deep slumber which was induced by Louis when he slipped a drug into Jud’s drink, apprehends what Louis has done and returns to his house to find his gun which he intends to use to kill the resurrected Ellie. His plan is overthrown by Church, who distracts Jud while Ellie attacks him with a scalpel and manages to kill him.
Sensing that something is wrong, Rachel returns to the house with Gage, only to find that her deceased daughter has been resurrected from the dead. Unable to cope with this, Rachel tries to protect both Gage and herself by locking themselves upstairs. While Rachel manages to save Gage by lowering him out the window into Scott’s arms, she falls prey to the murderous rage of the creature that once was her daughter.
The movie culminates with both Louis and Rachel resurrected from the dead and approaching the car where Louis had previously locked Gage to keep him safe. It is the movie denouement that has been the most different from the end of the book, triggering controversy.
One of the main plot twists that have been made to diverge from the book is the fact that it is Ellie that is killed by a truck and not Gage, as it is in the book. An idea that Stephen King himself agreed upon and that turns out to be genius, as the actress Jeté Laurence’s performance is nothing short of stunning. The twist from the sweet girl to the malevolent creature that she turns into is radical.
Pet Sematary – Based on a True Story
The story in Pet Sematary has some real-life back-ground from Stephen King’s own life from a period in which he lived in Orrington, Maine and owned a house that had a lot behind the house which was used as a pet cemetery. When King’s daughter’s cat died, it was buried in that pet cemetery and King was struck by one of the phrases his daughter was crying out that evening “God can’t have my cat. That cat is my cat!… Let him have his own cat.” which he used in the book, as Stephen King declared in an interview for the Collider.
The scene in which Gage wanders into the road was also inspired from an instant in which King’s own son, Owen, wandered a little too close to the road one day.
Grief – The Underlying Theme
Reviews for this new movie adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary are vastly divergent. Some critics insist that the first adaptation of the movie is a closer tribute to the book and are not keen on the script differences of this new movie. Others fervently acclaim the 2019 Pet Sematary movie with the catchphrase “Sometimes remakes are better”.
My assessment, however, is that the new Pet Sematary movie is a masterful adaptation of the book, in spite of the above-quoted discrepancies between the movie and the book. The superb acting of the main characters is genuinely conveying the heart-shattering, insanity-kindling despair of losing a loved one.
Although the story veers into the metaphysical, as it is conventional for Stephen King’s writing, it truly scratches the surface of a bottomless pit of heart-wrenching loss and grief and the desperate attempt to cross the boundaries of death when it separates us from our loved ones.