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Pet Sematary (2019 movie)

I don’t see a lot of horror movies – in fact, these days, with the number of invitations to review theatre productions that come through, plus the shows I wish to see anyway, I don’t watch a lot of movies of any genre. It is difficult to simply sit and watch a film when one is used to engaging one’s powers of analysis, and even more so when one’s companion takes a keen interest in both how movies are made and how watertight (or not) the film’s narrative is. Dr Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) moves to Maine with his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their children, Ellie (Jeté Lawrence) and Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie).

It is also significant for the purposes of the storyline that they have brought their cat, ‘Church’, short for Winston Churchill, with them. The film’s title, Pet Sematary, is spelt in this manner because the cemetery was originally made by children who want to remember their pets by giving them a burial and a place where they can come, lay flowers and pay their respects. A sign that marks the cemetery’s entry point is spelled that way because, at some point, some child or other used the phonetic spelling of the word ‘cemetery’.

Not that this is explained in the film itself. This motion picture is clearly made for the fans of the Stephen King novel on which it is based – they know the finer details of the story already, so do not need the kind of exposition that would have been helpful for yours truly. But, for the record, a number of subplots in the book are left completely unexplored in the movie, probably to stop the film becoming a five-hour marathon. In particular, Louis’ in-laws are neither seen nor mentioned: in the book, Rachel’s father detests Louis for not being nearly as wealthy as he is, therefore (in his mind) reducing his daughter’s future to a life of hard graft instead of a life of luxury. There was even an offer to pay off Louis in order to prevent him from marrying Rachel.

That, I suppose, doesn’t make for good horror in a horror movie, so instead the music swells as a character, be it Louis, Rachel or their neighbour Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), climbs up a staircase painfully slowly in the dark (goodness knows why they didn’t turn the lights on, though they will at least have environmentalists on their side, keeping the use of electric light to a minimum). In other scenes, the cinematography captured the darkness of rural Maine at night a little too well, in that the scenery became almost indistinct.

Essentially, the cat dies, and not because the lifespan of pet cats is shorter than that of their human owners. It’s buried in the pet cemetery but – this being an adaptation of a Stephen King book – it comes back to life, with a different personality to what it used to have. When circumstances later conspire such that the death of a human occurs, Louis, scientifically curious, rather stupidly wants to test his hypothesis that the same would work if that human were buried in the ‘Sematary’ as well.

Too much of the backstory is removed from the film, which raises questions for those unfamiliar with the story. This somewhat detracts from some good acting and moments of tension, and when my companion and I came to discuss the movie afterwards, the overall conclusion was that there are so many holes in the plotline that it is quite possible to drive one of the large trucks that fleetingly feature in the movie through it. That said, it held my attention, and there wasn’t anyone I felt was miscast.

​Three stars (out of five).

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