It’s not like there wasn’t any room for improvement. The 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary can boast of countless fans, but there are just as many folks (myself included) who find it a crudely made concoction hampered by clumsy pacing and, aside from the magnificent Fred Gwynne, undercooked performances. This new edition, also named Pet Sematary (** out of four), seeks to correct those deficiencies with slicker production values, better emoting, and even a twist not found in either the novel or previous film.
As before, the Creeds — dad Louis (Jason Clarke), mom Rachel (Amy Seimetz), and young children Ellie (Jete Laurence) and Gage (played by twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) — move to a small Maine town, where their new abode happens to rest on the edge of a highway that’s home to countless trucks that barrel through at all hours of the day and night. The Creeds meet across-the-street neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow, effective in a turn that’s less folksy and more gravelly than the one provided by Gwynne), who informs them of a pet cemetery that rests deep in the woods of their property. It’s only later that Jud alerts Louis to the fact that anything that is dead and subsequently buried beyond the cemetery, in ground deemed “sour” by long-ago Native American inhabitants, will come back in an altered state.
The first stretch of this P.S. is more reputable than that of the junkier ’89 model, but it also isn’t much fun, hurriedly paying somber lip service to the conventions of the story rather than engaging viewers in its darker implications. But then the massive deviation from the original text occurs, and it promises to spin the tale off into a different and possibly more thought-provoking direction. (This twist also explains why Gage had been largely ignored in the early going, emerging less as a character and more as a background prop.) But while the initial scenes following this “gotcha!” pirouette manage to resonate, the juicier aspects soon fade into the background and the picture devolves into a tiresome slasher flick. It all culminates with a brand new ending so useless and anticlimactic that it almost qualifies as a shaggy dog story — a mangy mutt that should be buried as quickly as humanly possible.