My Review of the 2019 Pet Sematary Remake

I managed to get out to the multiplex to see the updated remake of Pet Sematary. I know I usually stick to the more fantastical stuff, but you should also know I’m an old-school fan of horror movies. I used to read Fangoria, and obsessed over the images from Hammer films.

This was the first time I was able to get to the theater since Cold Pursuit, the disappointing remake of In Order of Disappearance. (No, really, it was.) Was it worth it? Read on to find out.

As always, you’ll also be able to find my reviews on Letterboxd. Just look for kesseljunkie.

Brief History

My feelings on the original Pet Sematary, directed by Mary Lambert and released in 1989, are no secret. It’s chock full of charm and even a little bit of fun, knowing that it’s telling a campfire story absurdity designed to leave you with a chill. Fred Gwynne is the heart of that movie, and sells it to the audience.

Lest you think I was biased against this experience, I was excited to see a new take on things. Thirty years later, in an era when horror films are a respected industry once again, I was supremely interested to see where they would go with things. An expansive budget, modern filmmaking techniques, and A-list cast spelled “excitement” for me.

To be clear, as well, I was never expecting it to recreate the experience that a young lad in 1989 had, as he cowered in his seat when Fred Gwynne went upstairs and found it difficult to walk. I was looking forward to something fresh and different.

The Sting of Disappointment

I was therefore stunned to be…bored.

This is a very bland horror movie. It’s like a lesser entry in a superhero franchise; it knows what’s expected, and it does what it needs. At no point is there anything exciting or memorable. To be honest, I’m likely to have trouble recalling anything truly unique about this movie outside of the fact that there were some things that were well-made.

The color palette didn’t create the ominous feeling they wanted. The washed-out colors and dim lighting are an attempt to infuse a somber visual atmosphere. Instead they made the entire exercise dreary and visually lifeless.

The few moments of excitement were undercut by the understated performances of the actors. I understand they were trying to go for a nightmarish can’t-wake-up feeling of helplessness, but instead wind up with a somnambulist monotony.

They have multiple winks at the audience who saw the first one, purposely “subverting expectations” (ugh) by putting the same characters in similar situations, just to do a head-fake. The problem is they do it more than once, but tricks like that only work once. You expect it afterward, so every time you try it again it’s not a pleasant surprise but a weak echo of something else.

The overall sense is that they wanted to create something both unique and familiar. I guess that’s the goal of any remake, but if you only move in half-measures then it just amounts to the cinematic version of someone trotting out a well-worn joke with slight variation in the setup.

If you’re inclined, you’ll give them a chuckle out of politeness. Most likely, though, you’ll stop them to say, “I’ve heard this before.”

One More Thing

As the end credits rolled, a cover of The Ramones’ song Pet Sematary, composed for the 1989 original, plays over them. This is a prime example of the half-measures they took to embrace their own vision. That Ramones song belongs not just to the original, but the sensibilities that shaped it.

This movie doesn’t have that same sense of absurdist fun, so it doesn’t belong here.

They should have let this tale stay in the past, to be loved by those with a good appreciation of what makes B movies memorable. This was a missed opportunity.

I guess the point of it all is, as the famous line goes, “Sometimes…dead is better.”

Further Listening

For deeper thoughts, you can check me chatting on Fanchise Fatigue with Brandon-Shea Mutala and Zach Moore. It’s a fun show. I think you’ll enjoy it.