March 6, 2020

A Brief Review of Pet Sematary (2019)

Pet Sematary

I think it would be fair to say that Pet Sematary (2019) was a controversial horror remake for some good reasons. For starters, many considered it unnecessary considering that we already had the original 1989 version. I was one who felt this way before seeing the 2019 version recently. While the original film was flawed (e.g., it had more comedic aspects than I'd prefer and had a dated almost made-for-TV-movie feel to it), it was still a pretty good film. After all, the Jud Crandall character played by Fred Gwynne has been permanently seared into my memory since I first saw the original film. I can't put my finger on it, but there was something about that character that really made an impression.

Next, the filmmakers took the bold move of deviating in significant ways from Stephen King's book and the first film. I was not aware of this prior to watching the film, and I confess that I might have passed on it had I known about it. I'm glad I didn't because I have to say that this is one of those rare cases where I think the remake improved on the original in many ways. I did not think their deviations necessarily enhanced the film (aside from the shock value of catching me completely off-guard), but they did not detract from it either. I ended up admiring their decision to give audiences something other than a straight remake.

It hadn't been that long since I watched the 1989 version again, so I had the advantage of being able to make comparisons from recent memory. As much as I enjoyed the 1989 version, it was not nearly as scary as the book. As mentioned above, it had a bit too much comedy for my tastes and looked quite dated. It had Gwynne going for it but not much else. The new version was much darker, had a creepy atmosphere only hinted at in the first film, and managed to be scary in a way the first one didn't even attempt. This was all evident almost from the start. As a horror film, it simply delivered more of what I'm looking for.

I thought the entire cast of the new film was great, although it did take me a while to warm up to the father, played by Jason Clarke. I've liked John Lithgow ever since Raising Cain (1992), and I thought he did as good a job with the Jud character as anyone but Gwynne could have. He was not as memorable in this role, but that's probably an impossible standard.

As for the first big deviation from the original story, I won't reveal anything for fear of ruining the film. What I will say is that I did not see it coming. I recognized the scene when it started and figured I knew what was about to happen. When something different happened, I found myself staring at the screen in disbelief and mouthing, "What the hell?" It was jarring but in a good way. It was at that point that I realized I was going to have to pay attention and not assume anything. This was not the same film.

Most horror remakes bring little that is new to the table. This one did, and I think it worked. It would not surprise me that die-hard fans of King's writing or of the original film would be upset with the changes made in the 2019 version. On the other hand, I'd expect that those unfamiliar with the book and who haven't seen the first film would like this one better. As for me, I thought Pet Sematary (2019) was a solid effort that was definitely worth watching. I didn't like it enough to add it to my collection, but I would watch it again.

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