“PET SEMATARY” — 2½ stars — Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jete Laurence; R (horror violence, bloody images and some language); in general release; running time: 101 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Stephen King fans have something to celebrate with the new “Pet Sematary,” but if you prefer a different beat — one that doesn’t feature blade-wielding demon children — be warned.
Based on the King novel of the same name, which was already turned into a movie in 1989, Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer's film tells the story of a family that moves in next door to a magic bog that can bring the dead back to life.
Things seem pretty normal when Louis (Jason Clarke) and his family move up to Ludlow, Maine, from their Boston home, but it isn’t long before the warning signs come knocking: Long haul trucks fly down the road a little too quickly, local kids walk through the woods in creepy masks, and when Louis' 8-year-old daughter Ellie (Jete Laurence) goes on a walk of her own, she discovers a creepy animal graveyard and grizzled old neighbor named Jud (John Lithgow).
Louis and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) are dealing with their own demons. Louis, a physician, is a devout atheist who thinks his wife should stop teaching their kids about spirituality. This is problematic for Rachel, who is haunted by the childhood trauma of witnessing her sister’s death.
Things get weirder when Louis starts having visions of a car crash victim who gives him ambiguous warnings like, “The barrier is not meant to be broken.” Then, when the family cat gets hit by a truck, Jud leads Louis out beyond the pet cemetery to a burial plot with apparent supernatural powers. The next morning, the cat is back, but in a decidedly scratchy mood.
A lot of horror movies hinge on the dumb decisions of their characters, and “Pet Sematary” is a pretty egregious example. For one thing, once the cat comes back and starts wreaking havoc, why does Louis continue to associate with Jud? Wouldn’t you be more inclined to punch the guy who tricked you into bringing a demon cat into your house? And wouldn’t that factor into your admittedly grief-ridden state when a more substantial family death followed? I guess that would ruin all the fun.
To its credit, “Pet Sematary” does deliver on some frights, though they tend to be of the manipulative jump scare variety, and most of the time you can see them coming a mile away. It’s amazing what a loud soundtrack clang will do, even when you know it’s about to happen.
While a lot of movies — horror or otherwise — go off the rails in the third act, “Pet Sematary” really does kick things into high gear, though again, whether you enjoy this particular brand of gear really is a matter of taste. (Which is another way of saying that this critic did not.)4 comments on this story
The film will resonate with King diehards — there are multiple callbacks to the first movie, along with some twists — but to be clear: This is pretty unsettling stuff, enough that it’s hard to recommend it. “Pet Sematary” lies closer to the nihilistic “Halloween” slasher end of the horror spectrum than “A Quiet Place” or “Get Out” territory. Cheap frights and violence, yes. But plenty of eye-roll moments, too.
Rating explained: “Pet Sematary” doesn’t feature wall-to-wall carnage, but it has plenty of disturbing imagery, violence and gore to justify its R rating, as well as scattered profanity and some brief sexual content.