What with the It reboot, Castle Rock and Mr Mercedes on TV and with many future terrors in the pipeline, it’s tough to imagine a stronger time for that most unpredictable of sub-genre: the Stephen King adaptation.
Oh sure, the 80’s and 90’s had dozens of the things, both great, awful and Maximum Overdrive (which is the same as awful, but one louder), spanning many different genres and featuring such diverse directors as George A. Romero, Frank Darabont, Stanley Kubrick, John Carpenter and even King himself.
But a whole new generation of King inspired movies is upon us (we don’t mention The Dark Tower round these parts) and the latest of these is from one of the prolific author’s most darkest books. However a perfectly good, legitimately creepy and very accurate version of Pet Sematary already exists, having been made back in 1989 and helmed by Mary Lambert. So does this new version have what it takes to wake the dead?
Well, mostly but it still wakes up pretty groggy.
While Pet Sematary 2019 is well cast, smartly acted and perfectly decent, I guess my main problem with it is that problem that plagues virtually every remake, retelling or reboot that’s ever been made: that niggling feeling in the base of my skull that tells me that I’ve literally seen it all before… but better.
Oh sure, changes have been made; this time it’s elder daughter Ellie, not baby Gage who has that unfortunate rendezvous with a speeding truck (gut wrenching in both versions) and the ending differs slightly in that it’s needlessly more complicated than it should be (another remake bugbear) but all the other holdovers are diligently ticked off one at a time from Victor Pascow’s exposed brain to the unfortunate meeting between scalpel and Achilles tendon; hell, even the Ramones song which featured in the originals closing credits gets fittingly resurrected here.
Thankfully the premise is given the appropriate weight it deserves – this is, after all, a story about grieving the death of a child and all the trauma that comes with it – and a couple of things in this new version best their original counterparts; Jason Clarke as increasingly traumatised father Lewis is one putting a far more layered performance in than Dale Midkiff and Church the cat puts in a far more memorable appearance in this version, his gravelly purr and steely glare no doubt putting the shits up audience members who consider themselves dog people. But for the most part it’s more 80’s, “less classy” predecessor takes the prize.
If you’re unfamiliar with the material, however, and fancy a spirited, if unessential scare then you could do a lot worse, but to paraphrase the tag line: Sometimes the retread ain’t better.