Film review: Pet Sematary's moments of greatness buried beneath a shovelful of clichés

Pet Sematary is playing at Burnley's Reel Cinema
Pet Sematary is playing at Burnley's Reel Cinema

The wilds of Maine have long been a favourite for Stephen King and they form the setting once again for this remake of his seminal horror novel from 1983 –a tale that famously even scared the master of horror himself.

It’s a bleak depiction of our own mortality and a reminder that the choices we make in life are not without consequence.

Directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer (the duo behind “Starry Eyes”), “Pet Sematary” follows Dr Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) who discovers a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods shortly after relocating from Boston with his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and two children, preteen Ellie (Jete Laurence) and toddler Gage (Hugo Lavoie).

It appears peaceful save for the encroaching trouble on the horizon: the monstrous trucks that constantly roar past their new home. The Creeds are about to discover that King’s famous line rings true – “sometimes dead is better”.

The family pet is a brown tabby Maine Coon named Church after Winston Churchill.

Ironically, elderly neighbour Jud (John Lithgow) played Churchill in Netflix drama “The Crown”.

Anyway, said feline gets squished by one of the aforementioned trucks and is found belly-up on the side of the road.

How will Louis break the bad news to his daughter? Jud knows a way he won’t have to. The horror that follows distorts an ordinary parental pitfall: sheltering your child from a tough reality.

Bring the cat back to life. True to the unwritten rule of the genre we once again see smart people do something stupid. What could possibly go wrong? What follows sets off a perilous chain reaction that unleashes an unfathomable evil with horrific consequences.

“There is something up there,” Jud declares. “Something that brings things back. But not in a good way”.

He’s not wrong. Church is now basically a bedraggled hissing zombie-cat. Louis can consider himself warned. However when tragedy strikes and Ellie is mowed down on her ninth birthday he is faced with the ultimate decision: say goodbye or take her to the Pet Sematary for an aberrant resurrection.

Pay attention to the caller who rings the truck driver, causing him to crash. It’s Sheena, a nod to the 1989 original in which the driver is listening to “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker” by The Ramones as tragedy strikes.

Kudos to screenwriters Matt Greenberg (“Halloween H20: 20 Years Later”) and Jeff Buhler (“The Midnight Meat Train”) for having Ellie as the child that dies rather than Gage.

Being older she is able to have coherent thoughts, not only to understand that the condition of life is death, but also to act as a mirror to reflect Louis’s decision and his past transgressions.

King’s theme is life, death and bereavement and why it’s better for the dead to stay that way and this change facilitates the narrative of this to great effect.

Surprisingly, however, there’s a strong sense of humour at its core. Even the most horrific moments have a sense of black comedy behind them – much like Kolsch and Widmyer’s “Starry Eyes” .

The tone is far too cheesy for my liking and ,unfortunately, that’s where it steers away from Mary Lambert`s cult classic from 1989 and lands itself firmly in Hollywood junk-food territory. There are moments of greatness but it all gets lost in clichés, gross-out special effects and all too familiar jumpscares.

Should they have dug up “Pet Sematary”? Yes, but much like the corpses buried behind the Creeds house, there’s something not quite right about it.