Remakes are strange creatures: most people seem to look at them with suspicion, but then they often do great at the box office. Studios know that, which is why we get tons of remakes/re-interpretations every year, and horror is the most permeable genre in this regard.
There are good and bad ones, obviously, but my opinion is that whenever there’s an artistic reason to remake a film (hence, when the original is flawed or has room for improvement) then we should accept it with an open mind. Although I’m very fond of the original 1989 Pet Sematary, I thought that movie could use a remake, which is why I didn’t roll up my eyes when I first heard of the 2019 Pet Sematary.
At the same time, though, the first trailer for the remake (which is the only one I watched prior to seeing the film) looked truly awful to me. I genuinely went to theatre like I was headed to a funeral (pun totally intended). I genuinely thought this remake was going to be one of the worst horror movies of 2019. Was it, then?
Before I review the two movies and give you my take on which one is better, let me clarify one thing: I watched the original Pet Sematary for the first time in 2013 when I was in my early 20s and I never read the Stephen King novel both these adaptations are based on. What does this mean? First, I have no nostalgia nor any kind of emotional attachment to the original movie. Secondly, I couldn’t care less about what adaptations is more faithful to the book. I am a film critic, I watch and review movies: as a director, you can do whatever you want with your film and the source material it’s based on, as long as the end product is worth sitting through.
Continue reading and find out my final grades below…
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With that out of the way, let’s dive into the two Pet Sematary movies, starting with the original.
PET SEMATARY (1989) – movie review
I’ll keep it short, since I reviewed it already a couple of years ago. We all know the story: a family moves to a house close to a dangerous motorway and their sweet old neighbour warns them about a burial ground for pets that has strange powers. When the family’s cat dies, the dad tries to bury it in that cemetery and – what do you know – Church comes back to life, good as new (besides being fucking possessed). When a huge truck kills the little kid, though, the dad tries to resuscitate him despite the trick didn’t fully work out with the cat… and, obviously, all hell breaks loose!
As I said in my old review, I really like the 1989 version of Pet Sematary: the biggest strength of the movie consists of its atmosphere, in combination with fantastic locations and set design. In this film, the build-up is what makes the movie: besides a very cool and interesting storyline (thanks, Stephen King!), this is a very atmospheric feature that combines elements of sweetness and emotional moments with surprising gory moments and an overall creepy vibe. Most of the performances are good enough (with Fred Gwynne as Jud Crandall being exceptional), the presentation is solid and quite unique, the sub-plot involving Zelda is unsettling as hell. Finally, the whole concept of “how to deal with death” is rather interesting and the movie pulls it off subtly enough.
My biggest problem with Per Sematary has always been its third act: it’s not really scary and [spoilersss] “possessed Gage” is just too cute to be frightening. Also, the way it’s executed makes it seem quite goofy and ineffective.
Pet Sematary (1989) 7/10
PET SEMATARY (2019) – movie review
Jump to 30 years later and we get a remake, produced by Paramount and directed by the duo that brought us the amazing Starry Eyes (Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer). And made on an estimated $21,000,000 budget!
Despite my initial doubts and more than low expectations, I was immediately surprised by the movie. In a good way.
The main storyline is the same as the 1989 film – plus a huge plot-twist/change [no spoilers, though] – but the pacing has been updated for the better. Although I generally prefer slower paced horror films, Pet Sematary (2019) understands its mass audience and makes everything quicker, without sacrificing a coherent storytelling. In fact, this remake has less build-up than the original but manages to develop the characters nonetheless.
The cast, which I was really concerned about, is actually very solid. John Lithgow as Jud Crandall is great – even though he doesn’t pull off the same fascinating accent as Fred Gwynne – the child actors are decent and, to my surprise, Jason Clarke as the dad finally provides a solid performance that goes along his well-defined character. However, Amy Seimetz as the mother doesn’t do a good job: she’s constantly screaming and being annoying, to the point I was hoping for a plot twist where she died 10 minutes into the movie!
The production values are impressive for a mainstream horror movie: the lighting, in particular, is extremely well-done and realistic. In fact, the scenes that take place during night-time are the most effective. Gladly, Pet Sematary (2019) doesn’t tone down the gore: if anything, the practical effects are made more gross and realistic. The effects are particularly impressive for the scenes involving Zelda, which get rather terrifying without relying on obnoxious tropes. Yet, the themes of the original film aren’t betrayed by the remake: this truly shows the effort put into the project.
Despite these positives, Pet Sematary (2019) is a very flawed horror movie. Even though there are enough gore and unsettling sequences, the movie feels the need to overly rely on fake jump-scares: for example, 2.40 minutes into the movie, there’s a loud noise for a truck passing by, as though we should be scared by that. I get the importance of foreshadowing, but this is simply stupid and manipulative. Also, pretty early on in the movie, out of nowhere there’s a loud, ‘spooky’ noise while the little girl is watching… Spongebob on TV?! Why?!
In fact, there are so many clichés in this remake that force me to believe the filmmakers had a checklist given to them by the Studio! There’s a corny online search montage, there are creepy masks for no reason whatsoever, there’s a backstory told entirely through exposition, there’s the laziest use of slow-motion…
Speaking of slow-motion, the big change of this remake in comparison to the original is so badly executed that I almost busted into laughter in the theatre. I mean, conceptually it makes sense and I respect it, but the way it’s presented really makes it look stupid and laughable.
Finally, the editing is jarring during the transitions in a way that breaks the flow into small, unrelated segments. This might seem like a nit-pick, but it does affect the tension that is broken into fragments instead of being consistent throughout the 101-minute-long runtime.
Pet Sematary (2019) 6.5/10
What Pet Sematary movie is better?
I was certain the Pet Sematary remake would’ve been awful, but I was pleasantly surprised by its high entertainment values and decent overall quality. Aside from the annoying crowd in the theatre, watching this movie was a very pleasant experience. If you set your nostalgia for the original aside, you might be able to enjoy the new Pet Sematary for what it is: a by the book horror film that doesn’t do anything exceptional but truly sets itself apart from the average cookie-cutter horror flick.
Personally, I’ll admit to like them both. However, I can’t see myself re-watching the remake any time soon… the original, on the other hand, is a horror film I like to revisit every now and again due to its atmosphere and late 80s charm. In conclusion, I do like the original Pet Sematary more than its remake, but not by much.
What about you? Which one did you prefer and why? Let me know in the comments!
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