I’m not one of those that believe the 1989 Pet Sematary is a great horror movie; I wrote a post last year when I rewatched it that expressed my mixed feelings about it. So it may not seem too a great surprise to anyone that I actually quite liked this, considering that when it came out it was blasted by those that ranked the original highly. To be frank, although I enjoyed the original book when I read it many, many moons ago, having mixed feelings regards the 1989 version I really didn’t expect very much of this film- well, chalk it up to another case of diminished expectations and all that.
I would imagine that the reasons I was pleasantly surprised by this film are the same reasons why champions of the original disliked it. I thought the cast was better in this version, particularly Jason Clarke, John Lithgow and Jete Laurence (I wasn’t enamoured by the 1989 cast who seemed pretty wooden to me), and I quite liked how it diverted from both the 1989 film and indeed the book in its latter stages (why remake a film and slavishly regurgitate the same old events/tropes?), at least offering something ‘new’ (for better or worse) to give some purpose for its existence. I would imagine fans of the original were quite appalled by some of the changes, but to me it felt like the directors (Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer) were using them as cheeky nods to audience expectations and. yeah, whats the point of a remake if you don’t do something different?
In fact, the only thing I really, really missed in this version was the originals evocative Elliot Goldenthal score, which ranks as one of my very favourite horror soundtracks (Christopher Young’s score here is no disaster but it doesn’t really imbue the film with its own character, it feels more generic- although I have to confess Goldenthal’s score shares a lot with Goldsmiths Poltergeist). I also think this film was a little short, even though it ran a little over two hours, as I think while it maintained most of the beats of the original story I think it needed more character moments, to help cement the mood and effectiveness of the scares. Empathy, afterall, is everything in a horror movie- its no good being assailed with jump scares and gore if you don’t really care very much for the protagonists. Another twenty to thirty minutes, I think, would possibly have improved the film no end. For one thing, the last third of the film feels so rushed it unfortunately seems to lose some impact, even though I welcomed how it diverted from what I expected. ironically, its almost as if the film-makers lost confidence the more they moved away from what happened in the original book and film.
So anyway. I think there were many positives in this film. Sure its not perfect (maybe a third attempt in another twenty years will finally get it done right) but on the whole I thought it was an atmospheric, good old-fashioned horror yarn and really enjoyed it. Hmm, diminished expectations and all that might be the answer to anyone considering watching this film- give it a shot and you might be as pleasantly surprised as I was.