"Pet Sematary" review — what went wrong with latest Stephen King adaptation?

Pet Sematary dir. Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer 2019

Pet Sematary was one of the most promising horror films of the year, but its arrival has been all too underwhelming

"Sometimes dead is better," confesses Jud (John Lithgow), reflecting on the danger of his actions. This is a statement which can also be applied to this latest Stephen King adaptation. Remakes often tend to feel pointless, and the horror market can sometimes feel oversaturated with unfortunate examples. Sadly, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer's take on King's 1983 novel of the same name is one such example. 

Mary Lambert also brought the film to the screen in 1989; it's not exactly regarded as one of the great King adaptations, but it does boast somewhat of a cult following. When a new interpretation was announced from the minds behind 2014's Starry Eyes, things were certainly looking good. Then, the first trailer arrived, which sold audiences on the idea of a necessary remake. Not all films need a retelling, but when the footage surfaced, it was obvious that Pet Sematary would benefit from a modern makeover. Sadly, the film eventually failed to deliver. 

Louis (Jason Clarke) and his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) move their family out of the city to a remote location surrounded by vast woodland. It's the perfect opportunity, with Louis taking a job which allows him to spend time with his family at a sociable hour. Immediately, we get the impression that the father's new routine is having a slight effect on his mental state. Then, things take a turn when the family discover that there may be more beyond the burial ground which falls under the lines of their property. What ensues is a tale exploring themes of grief, loss and guilt, as the line between life and death begins to blur. 

It looked like Pet Sematary would be one of the horror success stories of the year, but as soon as it arrived, the critical and audience reception suggested that the true achievement here was held by the marketing department. The film looked like it may offer something new and refreshing, perhaps even scary. Yet, this might be as dull as they come. There have been quite a few detractors taking aim at Clarke's performance, but it really isn't the problem. In fact, the cast does a decent job. The issue is that they're working with a particularly lousy script; for exposition's sake, the married couple with children talk about their past as if meeting for the first time. 

Admittedly, there are some effective moments, such as the road accident which provides the film with a pivotal shock. Then, there are some shots which are visually appealing, teasing the wider landscape beyond the pet sematary. Although, instead of pursuing some imaginative territory and taking risks, the film plods along until it reaches a generic conclusion which will have you questioning why you bothered in the first place. It brings nothing new to the table, which honestly isn't that much of a problem, but it's not entertaining, frightening or convincing. Sadly, it's just a bit of a bore, and perhaps its biggest misstep is that it's totally forgettable. 

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