I read Stephen King’s “Pet Semetary” a few months ago once I saw the trailer for the new film adaptation. I knew the basic plot lines of the story; it’s been parodied countless times (there’s a good South Park one which is pretty funny). Stephen King is good at creating suspense, but as I was reading I kept thinking that the story itself just wasn’t very interesting.
That’s the issue with the film; as an adaptation it’s not horrendous and it handles the basics of the horror genre competently. It’s made some pretty drastic plot changes which will probably annoy some people but I actually think served as improvements to the book. Ultimately though, for me the story itself is just kind of boring and there’s only so much that can be done.
Pet Semetary tells the story of Dr Louis Creer and his family who move from the big city to a quieter, rural area. The land on their new property goes all the way back to a cemetery where kids for years had buried their pets. When the family cat dies, the father Louis (Jason Clarke), is taken by the weird neighbour Jud Crandall (Jon Lithgow) to bury the cat up even beyond the pet cemetery. Needless to say, the cat comes back to life, but is mean and scratches now where he never used to. Eventually when Louis’ daughter Ellie is killed by a truck, he buries her up there and she comes back as an evil demon and by the end the entire family has been killed and brought back to life.
For me, it’s just not a very exciting premise, and the movie does it’s best with what it has to work with. The tone and setting of the film is in keeping with King’s novel, the performances are okay and there is some good suspense built throughout, but mainly through the old “what’s waiting round the corner” routine. The script is fairly contrived and is mainly used for plot progression but then again that’s similar to King’s style in the novel as well.
What both the book and the film try and explore, albeit to a superficial level, is the universal fear of death. Which is an interesting concept, and would have helped escalate the film above the mediocrity of the plot had it been explored in more depth. The resurrected people are portrayed as unnatural and inhuman, but there is little explanation for why exactly that is. The role of Victor Pascow, the student who passes away in Louis’ doctor’s office, has been reduced to only a couple of brief appearances and in so doing, excludes some much needed exposition regarding the origins of the graveyard.
As for the changes from the novel, I didn’t mind that the older daughter dies rather than the two year old little boy. Jete Laurence as Ellie is actually the stand out performance, (she’s freaking terrifying), and it wouldn’t have worked as well had they tried to make it work with the baby instead. I also quite liked the inclusion of the animal masks and the suggestion of a cultish aspect to the ritual of the local kids.
One thing the novel did better than the film is establish the friendship between Jud and Louis. In the novel, Jud decides to bring back the cat because he and Louis had enjoyed countless beers together and Louis had treated Jud’s wife when she had a heart attack. In the film Jud does this after seemingly meeting Louis twice, and it seems clumsy.
Some films based off Stephen King’s properties are undoubtedly iconic; Misery is unreal, I loved the most recent It and The Shining is terrifying. Pet Semetary as a story to me doesn’t even come close, so as a film, it’s unfortunately just very average.
By Jock Lehman