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With: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, Hugo Lavoie, Lucas Lavoie, Obssa Ahmed, Alyssa Brooke Levine
Written by: Jeff Buhler, Matt Greenberg, based on a novel by Stephen King
Directed by: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
MPAA Rating: R for horror violence, bloody images, and some language
Running Time: 101
Date: 04/05/2019

Pet Sematary (2019)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Meow and Again

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Coming 30 years after the original 1989 movie version, this dark, sturdy remake is effectively unsettling, focusing on the characters and their understandable emotions rather than on overt gore and FX.

In Pet Sematary, doctor Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his family, wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and toddler Gage, move from Boston to a small town in Maine, hoping to "slow down" a bit. Unfortunately, their house is near a trucking route, and huge vehicles speed by without warning. Rachel and Ellie also discover a pet cemetery in the woods not far from the house. A young man whose life Louis fails to save appears to Louis with a warning.

Meanwhile, Rachel is haunted by visions of her dead sister. Then, the family's cat, Church, is killed on the road. A friendly neighbor, old man Jud (John Lithgow) offers to help. He takes Louis behind the pet cemetery to a special, sinister burial ground. Before long, Church returns, but not quite himself. Now that Louis knows about that dark place, he must decide what is right the next time tragedy strikes.

Adapted from Stephen King's 1983 novel and directed by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch (Starry Eyes), Pet Sematary begins with legitimate discussions about death. The Creeds discuss whether nine year-old Ellie is mature enough to learn about death, and they argue about the possibility of an afterlife; Rachel believes there's something, but Louis is certain that life simply ends, and that's it. This simple idea establishes that death is actually meaningful in this story, and it also helps deepen the characters.

Pet Sematary is a little slow to get going because of this, but the first payoff — the creepy, matted Church returning to the house — means more when it actually comes. Co-writers Matt Greenberg (Halloween H20, 1408) and Jeff Buhler (The Midnight Meat Train) throw in an interesting twist, differing from the novel and original movie, and the directors concentrate on atmosphere and sound design (including a chilling score by the great Christopher Young).

However, this is arguably the darkest story King ever wrote (he was initially reluctant to have it published), and its effect is more unsettling than it is thrilling; some horror fans will appreciate this remake's above-average craftsmanship, but others will miss the sillier, slashery quality of the original.

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