Pet Sematary (2019): A Strange but Effective Adaptation
Reviewed by Simon Johnston for TheHumbleHeckler.com.
(Editor’s note: One day before attending the screening for this film, critic Simon Johnston was kicked in the head by a rogue mule during a family farm outing. Keep this in mind when reading the following review.)
Adaptation is a fickle art form; delicate in its intricacies, and merciless in its ability to expose the film’s every flaw. Most adaptations fail … miserably. Adaptations of beloved best-sellers have an even lower batting average. And Stephen King adaptations almost always suck. The problem with adapting any popular work is that there are no rules, no guidelines, no lifeguards on duty to warn screenwriters away from treacherous waters. Therefore, I tend to be as openminded as possible when reviewing adaptations, particularly when considering films that already occupy exalted status in the popular culture. And for Pet Sematary this is doubly true, as the ’80s have already gifted us with a popular and beloved novel and a film adaptation whose status among horror fans continues to not only endure but flourish. So this 2019 version of Pet Sematary has to slake the thirst of moviegoers as both an adaptation of classic novel and as remake of a classic horror film. Or is this actually a reboot? A soft reboot? Don’t know, don’t care. What I do know for sure is this is one of the strangest, most liberal interpretations of known material I’ve ever seen. These filmmakers really went out on a limb with this one.
As most of you know, Pet Sematary is based on the 1983 Stephen King classic novel Christine, only this time, instead of a 1958 Plymouth Fury, Christine is a big ole 18-wheeler with an appetite for human flesh. The story begins when the Creed family leaves the hustle and bustle of Boston for the fresh air, quiet, and low-stress environment of the Maine countryside. But things aren’t as bucolic as they seem. Christine, now a massive truck, regularly terrorizes the backroads of this quaint little New England town, looking for fresh victims to run over and then somehow bring back as zombies or something … I think in this version Christine is a Native American spirit that buries dead pets (and, unfortunately, people) somewhere spooky, then they come back as killer trucks, too. Something like that. Anyway, it’s nothing like the Stephen King novel or the original film directed by John Carpenter, which took a more traditional approach to adaptation, casting Christine as a killer car and leaving the Creed family out of the story altogether.
But, as weird as it may be, Pet Sematary is still a really strong movie in its own way. Jason Clarke does a fine job in a dual role as Louis Creed and as Christine. Amy Seimetz also makes a stellar impression in her dual role as Rachel Creed (Louis’s scaredy-cat wife) and as the woman who sold me a Coke. But it’s newcomer John Lithgow who steals the show, playing the nicotine-stained denim enthusiast Jud Crandall as well as giving life to the role of Winston Churchill, the family cat (a role he’d already played to perfection on the Netflix series The Crown). There’s also a little girl who does some stuff, but her character is ultimately unimportant to the overall plot. And then there’s a little boy who just wandered onto the set by accident and for some reason they made him the Creed’s son, Gage.
Speaking of the plot: it’s a hot mess. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some really good stuff here. I was enthralled with everything concerning Winston Churchill (they call him Church, for some reason) becoming a serial killer. Every scene that focuses on Church as he selects, stalks, tortures, and eventually kills his many victims (he kills 431 people and one big-ass rat in this film) is riveting. But these scenes are also absurdly gratuitous. For example, in one sequence Church decapitates a hitchhiker with a chainsaw, then we watch as he methodically skins his victim, filets his flesh, and meticulously prepares the corpse for his dinner—which we then watch him eat. In its entirety! None of this is necessary. There are also entirely too many fart jokes. In my humble opinion, horror and fart jokes are not compatible. There’s an actual scene in which Ellie (Louis and Rachel’s daughter) farts on Church, who in turn vomits on Gage, who in turn vomits on Jud, who already has diarrhea, so he poops his pants, which make louis sick, which makes Ellie laugh so hard she farts on Church again. Is this supposed to be scary? Funny? To be honest, at this point in the film I zoned out for a while and focused my attention on an order of concessions-stand nachos. I flat-out destroyed those bitches, then hit the bathroom for some sweet relief.
When I returned to the theater, the film had undergone a serious plot twist. Louis was now a man in a red suit with a lightning bolt on it who calls himself Shazooki or something. Gage was now a paraplegic teenager who regards his father more like a friend than a parent. The whole thing was so incredibly confusing I had to consider that I may have walked into the wrong theater after leaving the bathroom. Either way, there was still just way, way too much farting.
Pet Sematary may not be the scariest movie you see this year. That is all.
I give Pet Sematary 4.683 out of 10. I would’ve rated the film higher, but there’s just so much farting. I mean, really, people. Come on.
(Pet Sematary is rate R for adult language, graphic violence, graphic depiction of surgery, fish taunting, unsupervised tire swinging, threatening weather, superfluous gasoline usage, and one fart joke after another until you just want to smack someone.)