One of my favourite authors in the horror genre is Stephen King. I love almost all of his books, they are extremely well thought out, presented and their story lines can leave a chill in your bones and actually give you a nightmare if your mentality is so inclined. However, when his books are adapted for film, it can often be a crapshoot on the quality of the film. You can have masterpieces like Misery, Dolores Claiborne, The Stand, Carrie, and you can also have some real stinkers, i.e. Cell, Silver Bullet, Maximum Overdrive and the Lawnmower Man. So, basically you will have the full spectrum with his books, once they are adapted into a film.
The original Pet Semetary book by King was a great thriller. I remember reading it sometime in the 80’s and just devouring it in one shot. When the original movie came out in 1989, starring Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne and Denise Crosby I was eager to see it when it became available in the local Blockbuster store. (Yes, I am that old). The original film was pretty tight, it followed the book (pretty much) and did not have too many artistic discrepancies in it. In some cases, the film actually amplified the tension of the book and gave a face/picture to several facets of the film far scarier than my own imagination managed to create when reading. For example, Rachel’s sister, Zelda, was a very scary and intense human that emanated pain, and it was easy to understand how a young child would have nightmares having to deal with that situation growing up. Additionally, you had Fred Gwynne as the neighbour Jud Crandall. What child of the 1960’s and 70’s did not love Herman Munster! The character of Herman Munster played by Gwynne was a fun memory, and with that in mind I was looking forward to see how he had changed. It also starred Denise Crosby as Rachel Creed, who was known to me as Lt. Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation. All things considered, the original film had many things going for it, actors that I wanted to see and a storyline that I liked and was familiar with. As you can tell, I enjoyed the original film a great deal.
Now to look at the latest adaptation of Stephen Kings work. I have said this before, why does Hollywood decide that it must re-imagine films. The original can still stand today, sure the special effects may not be as great, but it still has its own intensity. This re-imagination lacked a great deal, and is just another example of a reboot that no one asked for or wanted.
For the few people who have not read Stephen King’s “Pet Semetary” or did not watch the original, this is what the film is about. Louis Creed (Clarke) is a doctor who moves from the big city to a small town to become the doctor for the local university. They moved from the city to get away from the stress of everyday life and raise their kids in a better environment. Besides a shocking first day at the university where Louis tries to save a young man who was struck by a car, they adapt themselves to a new home and life (this young man death is important to the story later).
They meet their neighbour, Jud (Lithgow) an elderly man who takes a shine to the family and takes Louis (Clarke) under his wing, and tells him stories of the town and life there. One of the key stories is that of the Pet Semetary that is located on their land. The story becomes especially important after Elie’s (Laurence) cat “Church” is run-over by an Orinco Gas truck. These trucks come speeding down the highway on a regular basis and are also important to the plot line (well at least if you know the plot, as this film does not emphasize it enough). Jud (Lithgow) and Louis (Clarke) bury the cat, whereupon it comes back to life and returns home. However, the big issue is that the cat has changed, and not in a good way.
Now that we know that the Semetary will bring things back to life, we already know where this story is going to go. Ellie (Laurence) is hit by a truck, Louis (Clarke) buries the child, it comes back to life evil and wreaks havoc on the family and friends, killing a few more and then makes a further twist at the end that is not in line with the original story. Overall a very very mediocre film.
What didn’t I like about the film. First of all, if I did not know the story line (having read the book and watched the original) there were a lot of plot holes, some so large, you could drive a truck through them (maybe an Orinco gas truck perhaps?). The acting was so/so and the dialogue felt uneven. The only good part of the film was the character of Jud (played by Lithgow), but even his dramatic talents and flair could not save this film. The chemistry between the characters was completely absent, and the editing and direction could have been far better, that is just to make it a decent film. Additionally, key elements of the storyline were missing or just glossed over. I will just outline a few examples;
- The Orinco trucks, this is a key element of the story – they should be driving by incessantly at high speeds to give us the foreshadowing that something would happen;
- The story of Rachel (Seimetz) and her sister, this was not presented well at all. We did not get to really see the fear when the story was being told, and most importantly the tension that lived between her, Louis, and her parents over the issue. Louis and his father in-law are supposed to be at each other’s throats and hate each other. Here, we just had a few glares, and an innuendo or two on how the father in-law was a bit of an ass-hat;
- Where was the chemistry between Jud and Louis? He is supposed to take him under his wing, and he should be treating him like a son he never had – did not see it here. Also, while on the subject of Jud, when he tells the tales of the Pet Semetary gone wrong, it is just a few sentences. This is integral to the plotline, where were the examples, the memories…it was just too lame;
- I personally don’t like the fact that Ellie was run over instead of Gage in the film. In the original, where Gage walks around with the scalpel raising havoc and killing everyone as he tells them he loves them is very scary! Now, Ellie’s scenes just seem a little too contrived;
- I also did not like the “twist” at the end (I will let you watch the film and won’t give away this plot point). The “twist” actually was kind of predictable as we were watching it, especially once Ellie was killed vice Gage, so there was no impact if you will in the story line;
- Editing – This much needed skill was severely lacking in this film. Key plot points were glossed over and the scenes seemed to be thrown together haphazardly. Again, if I did not know the story (even with the changes) I would have gotten lost; and
- Finally, where was the Stephen King cameo…he is always in each film for a second or two. Maybe he did not want to attach his face to this mess. (According to the director, King was ok with the changes…)
Now let’s take a look at the cast:
Jason Clarke as Louis; I usually like Clarke in most his roles. In this film, I found him very stiff and stilted. He did not have any chemistry with his co-stars and just seemed to walk through the role as a Zombie. (A little foreshadowing for you here). Mind you, he has made some stinker’s himself (i.e. Serenity) but for the most part he is pretty good in a large proportion of his films.
Amy Seimetz as Rachel: I can’t really say that her performance here intrigued me to see her in other roles. She lacked chemistry with her co-stars and when she needed to show intensity, fear or really any other emotion, I just didn’t see it. Now, looking at her IMDB resume, I do remember her in small parts in the Killing and Stranger Things that she was ok in. Maybe it was just the direction and dialogue that was lacking here.
Jete Laurence as Ellie: Laurence is relatively new to films (obviously) but I have managed to see her in other roles (Sneaky Pete, Friends from College), and she did not perform too badly. Actually, I found her acting to be a bit better in the later part of the film, then the first half. As she becomes a more important factor in the storyline, she actually managed to carry a few scenes better than some of her co-stars. Unfortunately, the direction/script just was not there for her to shine in her scenes.
John Lithgow as Jud: Lithgow is extremely talented and can play a psycho, alien, politician and terrorist with equal aplomb. In Pet Semetary, even with his skill, he could not carry the film. I would have to blame the direction and script as he is an awesome actor who did not get the chance to show it. Unfortunately, there was no chemistry here either, if the director/script would have taken the concepts from the book where Louis and Jud developed a father/son relationship, I believe that some scenes would have come out far better and the film’s enjoyment would have increased.
Now for the big question, were we entertained? Unfortunately, No, we were not. The film lacked direction, a weak script and the creative licence that was taken in this film adaptation actually hurt the film rather than helping it. Even with a heavy hitter like Lithgow and a respected actor like Clarke, the film just did not deliver on any level. If you are interested in this story, watch the original from 1989 and give this one a pass.
Our rating: 3/10
If you are interested in other films from the main characters, please consider the following recommendations;
Jason Clarke Everest, White House Down, Zero Dark Thirty, Lawless, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.
Amy Seimetz Stranger Things, Alien: Covenant, The Killing
John Lithgow The Crown, Daddy’s Home 2, The Accountant, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dexter, 3rdRock from the Sun, Cliffhanger
Till Next Time!