“Pet Sematary” (2019)

Church is murderous and hateful and the Avatar of All Cats

Dearie me, what to do with this?

Pet Sematary is back again, because maybe remakes remind us of a time when the world wasn’t literally burning and we weren’t ruled by a syphilitic madman. I guess I could make the obvious resurrection joke, but I’m better than that. Unlike this film, alas. (Ohhh, snap.)

I don’t get why we needed this, but I was still looking forward to seeing it because I love the conceit of Pet Sematary. But what directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer have done here is something wholly unlike their wonderful Starry Eyes. That film played smartly with genre conventions, riffed on David Lynch, and gave us something wholly absorbing and unexpected. Pet Sematary, on the other hand, feels like the product of an out-of-touch board meeting, stale and unnecessary and not at all what people want. If you saw the 2015 Poltergeist remake, this feels very similar. There are no drones, but there is a similar failure to justify releasing a remake in the first place. And, like Poltergeist, this remake features a few gimmicky shout-outs to the original. The effect is something like opening a fast food mustard packet to find it full of ketchup, and vice versa. Unexpected, yes. Pointless, entirely.

For example–as you’ll already know from the trailer–it isn’t baby Gage who dies this time, but big sister Ellie. There’s no clear reason for this change, and it seems (perhaps unfairly to Ellie) less horrific, simply because Gage is a baby and there’s nothing more horrible than a baby dying. The scene where Gage is running toward the road ends with Lewis snatching him at the last minute, only for Ellie to take a truck to the face instead. (Mustard when you expected ketchup.) The change also means that we’re subjected to some very generic and unconvincing “evil” acting by the resurrected Ellie, all monotone and gravely and eeeeeeevil because she’s, you know, eeeeeeeevil now. (Bland, generic, yellow mustard.)

John Lithgow is John Lithgow with a beard. I like John Lithgow, so, there’s that.

Jason Clarke as Louis channels Dale Midkiff, who first played the role, in weird ways. Specifically, the two share a strangely flat gaze that seems to persist regardless of what the rest of their faces are doing. There are some moments where Clarke’s Australian accent pokes through, begging the question: in 20-freaking-19, why not just make the character Australian? Australians can marry American people and move to Maine. You want us to accept undead cats, for chrissake. I think we can accept Ozzie ex-pats.

In the end, Pet Sematary lands among the most “meh” of films. It isn’t terrible, but it’s far from good. Watch it when it’s streaming, but don’t pay the dozen+ dollars it takes to see it in a theater. If we want movies like this to stop, we have to stop paying for them.

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