[Screen It]


(2019) (Jason Clark, Amy Seimetz) (R)

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Horror: After discovering that a remote pet cemetery can bring dead animals back to life -- but not with the same temperament -- a grieving father makes a decision that might end up haunting him and others.
Louis Creed (JASON CLARKE) is an ER doctor from Boston who's just moved to the small town of Ludlow with his wife, Rachel (AMY SEIMETZ), and their two kids, Elle (JETE LAURENCE) who's about to turn nine, and toddler Gage (HUGO LAVOIE & LUCAS LAVOIE), for a less hectic pace of life.

Not only do they meet their neighbor, Jud Crandall (JOHN LITHGOW), but they also learn that their large tract of land contains a pet cemetery used for generations. Louis ends up going there over the course of several nights, led by the spirit of a young college student, Victor Pascow (OBSSA AHMED), whose life he couldn't save following a bad injury.

When the family cat ends up killed by one of many large trucks that zoom by the property, Rachel doesn't want to tell Elle of its demise what with having a hang-up about death. She's still haunted by the death of her own sister, Zelda (ALYSSA BROOKE LEVINE), back when both were just girls. So, she and Louis come up with a lie that the cat ran away from home, and he and Jud head off to bury the cat in the pet cemetery. But knowing how much the cat meant to the girl, Jud has Louis bury the cat in another location, knowing what will happen.

And that is that the cat will come back from the dead, albeit not with the same temperament. As they deal with that and other supernatural occurrences, a tragedy strikes the family. All of which leads Louis in the predicament of making a tough decision that may haunt him and his family for the rest of their lives.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Back in 1984, the German synth-pop band Alphaville released "Forever Young" and its lyrics about "Forever young -- I want to be forever young -- Do you really want to live forever? -- Forever, and ever." While the lyrics are likely about living under the shadow of nuclear annihilation ("Hoping for the best, but expecting the worst -- Are you gonna drop the bomb or not?") most listeners likely assumed it had something to do with immortality and thus could be considered catnip -- or more accurately, blood -- to vampires who, if they time things right, do live forever young.

Five years later, the Ramones released a song that was decidedly anti-immortality with lyrics such as "I don't want to be buried in a pet cemetery -- I don't want to live my life again." Yes, it was the title track to the movie "Pet Sematary" which was based on the Stephen King horror novel of the same name about a burial ground for pets that had a certain tendency to resurrect whatever dead might be buried there, and not just limited to fur babies.

Speaking of resurrections, and in keeping with Hollywood's obsession with digging up past projects and breathing new life into them, we now have a new adaptation of King's story, thirty years removed from the original. Considering I haven't seen that one since its original release, about the only thing I remember is the Ramones song. So beyond knowing the basic premise, I didn't go into our press screening with any bias one way or the other or the ability to compare the two flicks.

This one tells the tale of an ER doc (Jason Clarke) who moves his family (Amy Seimetz as his wife, Jete Laurence as their about-to-be nine-year-old daughter, and Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie playing her toddler sibling) from Boston to the more idyllic small town of Ludlow. But things near immediately seem askew, what with the mom and daughter witnessing a funeral procession of several children wearing animal masks rolling along a deceased pet in a cart. Curiosity may have killed the cat -- and we'll get to that in a moment -- but young Elle lets that get the better of her and she finds their destination, a pet cemetery (misspelled "sematary" on a crudely constructed sign) that happens to be on their property.

She also encounters the old man neighbor (John Lithgow) who eventually sees how much she loves their pet cat, Church. Thus, when the feline falls victim to one of many large trucks that zoom by on the small road, he has a solution for the dad. And that's not to bury the kitty in that pet cemetery, but in another spot not that far away.

That night, the mom and dad lie to the girl that the cat ran away when she says that's not true, as it's in her room. And cue the next level creepiness, particularly once tragedy strikes and that secondary burial spot seems like a bad/good idea as the Ramones song is heard in the heads of those of us old enough to recall the first flick and the overall notion of some things are best left dead.

As in many a movie adaptation of a Stephen King novel, some things feel truncated in terms of certain matters one imagines are better explained in the book that has more time and space for such depth. That includes the ghost of a young man (Obssa Ahmed) who died in the emergency room but keeps coming back to deliver grisly warnings as some sort of a spirit guide, while other scenes feature flashbacks to Rachel's traumatic experiences as a young girl with her deformed and bedridden sister (Alyssa Brooke Levine) and a related and pivotal dumbwaiter.

Likewise some things don't make any sense without more explanation or reason, such as Rachel not being able to deal with a tragedy and thus going to her parents' house, the source of her nightmares from her childhood, while the biggest, fateful decision in the film likewise doesn't pass muster since the instigator knows what's probably going to happen based on what already has. A few script tweaks here and there could have resolved much of that, but thankfully they're not terribly distracting in the moment.

But the paring down of the otherwise helpful information does allow more time for the scares to be more plentiful, and scribe Jeff Buhler and co-directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer get decent mileage out of the spooky material. No, it doesn't have the social commentary of the recently released "Us," but the frights, jolts, and unnerving and unsettling material are set up and executed quite well.

While not perfect, I enjoyed the flick for what it is and is trying to do. And I'm certainly glad I don't live in a house with a dumbwaiter, own a property that has a pet cemetery on it, or have the desire to bury something in one. "Pet Sematary" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 3, 2019 / Posted April 5, 2019

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