“Sometimes, dead is better.”

So says Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), uttering a piece of advice he doesn’t take in Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer’s remake of Pet Sematary.  They should have applied this notion to their own misguided project, as sometimes certain movies are better dead.  The original 1989 version was no great shakes, and this current iteration disproves my idea that the only movies that should be remade are bad ones, in the hopes perhaps they’ll turn out better the second time around. Yet, with the massive success of 2017’s It, everything Stephen King is being adapted, redone or jerry-rigged for visual consumption.  That so many of these productions fall short of expectations (The Dark Tower anyone?) shows once more that what may work on paper doesn’t always translate well to the big screen.

The Creeds, physician dad Louis (Jason Clarke), haunted mom Rachel (Amy Seimetz), precocious nine-year-old Ellie (Jete Laurence) and toddler Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie), have moved to rural Maine to get away from the rat race that is Boston.  What they get instead is a rambling farm with 50 acres of land which includes a pet cemetery, where the area kids inter their faithful four-legged companions.  As an added bonus, there’s a Native American burial ground just beyond, where whoever is planted there comes back to life.  Problem is, they ain’t quite right when they return.

The Creeds get a chance to try it out on their feline Church when he ends up on the losing end of a quick and decisive cat vs. really big truck battle and before you know it, the family pet returns as a mean, shambling mess of furry zombieness.  This is only the first trip to the forbidden area and before you know it, there are far too many of the recently returned dead shuffling around.   

The one advantage the previous cinematic iteration had was a screenplay by King himself, which adhered closer to the source material.  This time out, Jeff Buhler tries his hand at making the material cinema-friendly and he botches it completely.  Little time is spent to allow the characters to develop or for relationships to form.  The friendship between Louis and Jud is the key for the story to work and it is absent here. The old man’s background and budding friendship between all of the Creeds and them with him, gives the tale an emotional foundation that facilitates a sincere response to all that ensues. With that missing, all that’s left is meaningless mayhem.     

Buhler also fails to rectify the story’s biggest plot hole, namely why doesn’t Jud just keep his big mouth shut about the burial grounds? The reveal and background of this supernatural place doesn’t quite hold water in King’s novel either, but the way and the circumstances around how it’s revealed here is obvious in the most egregious manner.  

Much has been made about the altered ending of this version, and while Kolsch and Dennis may be trying to make some sort of social statement regarding death and the modern familial unit, it’s all handled so clumsily that it comes off as lazy and obvious.  Subtlety is absent here; if you like simplistic stories, this Pet Sematary might just be your cup of tea. Me, I’ll wait until they dig this one up again and hope that the third time’s the charm.  

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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