“It might seem scary but it’s not,” coos Jason Clarke’s Dr. Louis Reed to his button-cute daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence), explaining about the pet cemetery that occupies part of the land of their new home. Don’t you believe a word of it. The second adaptation of Stephen King’s 1983 novel, Pet Sematary 2019 aims to burrow under your skin – and succeeds.
Ellie and her mother Rachel (Amy Seimetz) soon see the (misspelled) ‘sematary’ in action as a procession of mask-wearing kids, looking like something out of The Wicker Man, pass by with a beloved creature to bury. Clearly something in this sprawling property in Ludlow, Maine, is amiss: Rachel is being troubled by visions of her sister Zelda, who died years earlier. Meanwhile, Louis’ failure to save student Victor (Obssa Ahmed) from a traffic accident is vividly haunting his dreams.
Things start to get really twisted when Church, the family cat, is killed by a speeding truck (fear not, feline fans, we don’t actually see it). Rather than upset Ellie, Louis decides to bury Church and tell her that the kitty has skedaddled. With the help of friendly neighbour Jud (John Lithgow), Louis heads out back to the animal graveyard, but then Jud convinces him to bury the cat in a stone circle further on.
We soon find out why: Church comes back from the dead, all hissing and yellow-eyed. Needless to say, Ellie is terrified as her pet turns ultra-scratchy and attacks her little brother Gage. But this is just the beginning of a hellish Frankenstein-like odyssey that shows just why you shouldn’t mess with, as Louis is told in no uncertain terms, “where the dead rest”.
Co-directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch (Starry Eyes, Scream TV Series) are clearly well-versed in horror and King’s work; at one point, a dumb waiter starts seeping blood which feels like a mini-nod to The Shining’s gushing corridors. Using some neat prosthetics work and animatronics (the ‘evil’ Church looks a little OTT, mind) to sell the horrifying events to come, they carefully build towards an eerie conclusion.
Clarke and Lithgow are excellent as, respectively, the rational family man who comes to believe in the afterlife and the kindly-but-foolhardy old-timer. But the real star is young Jeté Laurence (The Snowman), who delivers a very special turn. If at times this feels like a respectful remake of Mary Lambert’s 1989 Sematary rather than something truly iconic in its own right, it’ll still leave King fans satisfied and, yes, scared. What’s more, it comes in at a crisp 101 mins – positively brisk compared to many a King adaptation.
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- Release date: April 4, 2019 (UK)/April 5, 2019 (US)
- Certificate: R
- Running time: 101 mins