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Pet Sematary (2019): A kinda of spoiler-ish review from a fangirl

Love the masks!

Don’t want to read the entire review? Here’s a summary...

What I thought worked:

  • Lithgow as Jud (although I didn’t get an impression of a super-elderly dude, like novel Jud or “Herman Munster” Jud).

  • The rest of the cast. Sorry, but '89 Ellie and Rachel were annoying to me.

  • The set design felt spot on, from the Creed and Crandall home to the misty, spooky-assed woods and burial grounds.

  • Zelda--what a fucking nightmare!

  • The pet funeral procession with the wicked animal masks? Big fat YES!

  • The acknowledgment of the roll of the Wendigo.

  • Trying to catch the Easter eggs.

What I thought didn’t work:

  • Not much, overall. Big Hollywood horror hasn't been great lately, so this was a surprise.

  • I would’ve liked to have seen the flashback of Timmy Baterman’s story.

  • That cover of the Ramones “Pet Sematary” during the credits? No. Just plain no. They should've buried that one and just stayed with the original!

Now, my way-too- wordy take:

Yesterday, I went to the matinee of the new Pet Sematary remake and threatened to post my assessment of the film. Full disclosure — I loved the original 1989 version and have fond memories of going with my aunt and cousin to see it. I thought Fred Gwynne was a perfect Jud and Dale Midkiff was kinda dreamy with his poofy Rob Lowe hair. And, of course, Miko Hughes was adorable as the ill-fated Gage. When I heard about the remake, I was somewhat excited, but also had reservations—I figured the studio would need to make changes to fill some sort of weird diversity quota or else might feel it necessary to “tone down” the horror, because what’s more horrifying than a kid being rundown by a 18-wheeler? Not much! And I just wasn’t getting the warm-fuzzies from John Lithgow as Jud.

It turns out all my misgivings were way off the mark. There are some major changes from the '89 adaptation, and from the novel, that I thought wouldn’t work--because that's how I roll. I always assume if there's a way to fuck up something that was great to begin with, Hollywood will find it!

**Now, this MAY be a spoiler, but if you’ve paid attention to the trailer or read anything at all about the new flick, you already know they have switched out the untimely demise of the Creed child from Gage to Ellie. At first, I assumed it's because today’s audiences are always on the verge of some sort of unwarranted "outrage" and generally wimpy AF, so they just wouldn’t be down with a cute toddler (or a cuddly pussy cat, for that matter) getting smooshed by a semi—even in a horror movie. Perhaps a kid that just exiting that "cute" stage being mowed down like a chipmunk in the road is somehow a bit less "cringe-worthy." However, reading the reasons why definitely cleared up that misimpression. It involved the use of a doll as a stand-in for Gage in some of the scenes. Now, I can understand this. Looking back on the original, there was a strong similarity between Gage and Chuckie in at least a few frames. No, I'm not kidding!

Either way, this remake ended up adequately frightening -- and this is coming from someone who has resorted to getting her dose of horror from Reddit and Creepypasta as Hollywood and big publishing hasn't been able to get the job done lately (outside of the occasional spark of brilliance). While it’s impossible to capture on film some the psychological horrors that King created with the novel, they did manage to scratch the surface. Understand, that particular horror lies not in the idea of bringing back the dead, but in losing a child. And how far a parent will go to “undo” it. Worse, it's a selfish act. They don’t do it for the child, but to protect themselves from the pain and having to address the grief. Once Ellie makes her return, there’s a moment when Louis realizes he probably didn’t think things through very well by digging up his dead daughter and reburying her in the Micmac burial grounds. The brief exchange between the father and daughter here is indeed chilling, and the hair-combing scene is a nod to a particularly twisted little scene in the novel (because being hit by a moving vehicle is bound to leave a mark).

**As a doctoral candidate in psychology, I hope to have the time to address some of the emotional trauma of the novel at some length. But that's a future post.**

All-in-all, enjoyed this version even more than the 1989 attempt. While it is rare that a movie is better than a novel, this "reimagining" of “Pet Sematary” is very good. And very different. Lit (and King) purists might not like the changes, but it works on film. And it works for 2019.

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