Sometimes dead is better, but here we can make an exception.
Remakes have a track record of either being fantastic or a complete flop. Yet despite Stephen King’s mantra “Sometimes dead is better” in Pet Sematary, the remake redeems itself. Released in theaters April 5th, the new Pet Sematary far exceeds the expectations brought forth from the original 1989 film. If you haven’t watched it yet, you’ve been warned that this review contains spoilers. So with that in mind, let’s cross into this threshold and dive into the new film.
The film opens with an aerial view of a farmhouse on fire and closes in on the house across the road, showing a car with a broken window, then a trail of blood and footprints leading to the open door. This is a common technique in movies that show the viewer what’s coming without explicitly saying anything.
From here, the scene reopens to the Creed family arriving at their new home in Ludlow, with eight-year-old Ellie (Jete Laurence) showing her apprehension to moving, but both Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and Louis (Jason Clarke) feel optimistic about leaving the bustling city life of Boston behind. Louis will no longer have to spend his nights working in the ER and can begin as campus doctor at the University of Maine. Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) simply utters, “home.”
Ellie notices a group of children clad in animal masks parading through the woods behind the house while unpacking. The ritual of this is explained by a concerned Rachel, who ushers Ellie back into the house after watching the children carrying a dead dog in a wheelbarrow. A girl carries his collar on a pillow. Her curiosity gets the best of her though, and Ellie follows the path the children took to the “Pet Sematary.” Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) startles her into falling into a hornet’s nest while trying to climb the pile of dead tree limbs beyond the cemetery. He plucks the stinger out of her leg, which is a silent nod to the novel’s first scene where he pulls the stinger from Gage’s leg.
From here, Ellie and Jud form more of a bond than the original movie. He seems standoffish in the beginning when he catches her climbing the dead tree limbs and again when he finds her snooping around his house. But as the movie progresses it’s clear he has a soft spot in his heart for her and her cat, Church. When Church is then struck by an Orinco truck on Halloween, Jud leads Louis to the Indian burial ground to resurrect him.
Louis tells Rachel about Church’s death – Rachel’s fear of death causes her to plead with him not to tell Ellie about her cat dying, saying “anything but dead.” He agrees to lie to Ellie and say he ran off. But when they tell her, Ellie points out Church returned in the middle of the night, alive and well. Alright, maybe not “well,” but not dead anymore. Louis eventually tires of Church’s killing of animals and of his attacks toward Ellie and tries to put him to sleep but ends up dropping him off in the woods miles away.
For her birthday, Rachel and Louis throw Ellie a party and invite her friends. While playing a game, Ellie drifts off to the road. It’s here that she finds Church strolling back home and runs to greet him. Gage, seeing Ellie in the road, goes to follow her. Louis runs to pull Gage out of the road just in time to miss getting hit by the speeding Orinco truck but doesn’t realize Ellie is also in the road.
After Ellie’s funeral, Rachel goes home with her parents back to Boston and Louis is left with only one decision. He buries Ellie in the cursed burial ground. This, for me, is what made this movie so much better. It’s easier to see a reanimated eight-year-old go on a rampage than a toddler. She questions if she is dead, and Louis ignores it, but she tells him that she remembers what happened on her birthday. After Jud discovers what Louis has done, Ellie overhears him telling her father to fix his mistakes. Ellie goes to Jud’s house to kill him.
In another nod to the original movie, viewers watch Jud standing next to the bed in his house. On the edge of our seats, we heave a sigh of relief when he kicks the bed away from him, instead of having his Achilles tendon cut. It isn’t until he’s on the stairs that Ellie strikes him with her father’s scalpel in the ankle.
Rachel, concerned for Louis, returns to their home in Ludlow to find her daughter in the dirty white dress she’d been buried in. As Louis explains what happened, Rachel refuses to embrace her dead daughter. This causes Ellie to be angry. She leads Louis out of the house and attacks and kills Rachel. Upon returning, Louis finds a nearly dead Rachel – stabbed several times – who begs him in her final moments, “don’t bury me in that ground.”
After knocking Louis unconscious, Ellie drags Rachel away. After regaining consciousness, Louis searches for Ellie, following the blood trail out of the house. He finds her in the cemetery and tries to kill her. But Rachel, now reanimated herself, kills him.
The end of the movie shows the three Creeds walking up to the car where Gage is still sitting, and Church leaps up onto the windshield before the end credits begin rolling.
To maintain the roots of the 1983 novel and original movie, directors Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer keep some of the scenes the same. Victor Pascow’s (Obssa Ahmed) death in the new movie still provides Louis with the same warnings, but Pascow’s character is more serene than laughable in this version. Jud’s wife, Norma, does make a quick appearance in this movie, only to taunt him before he dies. Rachel’s sister Zelda (Alyssa Brooke Levine) still taunts Rachel and warns her that she’s going to die.
Although the film is far superior to the older movie, Fred Gwynne’s portrayal Jud as the town’s creepy, ominous old man was played better than Lithgow. Lithgow – who is a great actor – portrays Jud as a more loveable and a more kind, older man. King’s novels typically include the older, creepy man archetype. I didn’t really see that with Lithgow’s performance.
In this new version, we also see Rachel’s fear of death explained because she actually had a part in her sister Zelda’s death. She caused Zelda to fall into the lift that was used to send food to her when the lift didn’t work properly. Despite Zelda suffering from spinal meningitis and slowly dying, Rachel blames herself.
Due to the ending, it almost sets itself up for a sequel, much like the original. Despite my love of King novels and movies, I’m hoping they keep this one as is. The second Pet Sematary, released in 1992, was less than a box office failure, so much so that King removed his name from it before being released.
Overall, this movie portrayed the story well, the acting was far better, and the storyline changes made it all the more viewable. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out and you enjoy a good horror movie, I recommend it.
Written by Amanda Creech
(Amanda specializes in sarcasm and the horror genre – mostly in literature, but also film, sometimes real life. She currently writes memoir and fiction in her spare time and maybe when she’s a big kid she’ll be famous for her writing – if anyone enjoys reading about the drama of a small town southern Indiana girl moving north. Follow Amanda on twitter at @A_Creech93.)