22 Mar

Image: Paramount pictures

Did Pet Semetary really need a remake? Does the answer to that question even matter?

The 2019 remake directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer is real, and it’s ready for its April 5 release. Critics and fans attending South By Southwest got an early look at the horrors to come on Saturday night, and the first reactions are now coming in.

It’s looking good, King fans! There’s only a handful of published reviews to draw from at this point, but they’re mostly positive, heaping praise on the writing and direction, the performances, and — notably — the smart tweaks that were made to one of King’s most popular and widely known stories.

Here’s what the critics are saying.

Amy Seimetz is a standout

Meagan Navarro, Bloody Disgusting

Seimetz outshines Clarke as the spouse grappling with the very concept of death, stemming back to a traumatic childhood with her older sister Zelda. Between Seimetz’s captivating performance and the role she’s given here, Rachel Creed is the one we nearly wish was the focal point of the film. 

Britt Hayes, IndieWire

Seimetz and Clarke anchor the film as the grief-stricken parents, and the former in particular grounds some of the story’s wackier concepts — like the flashbacks involving the death of her sister. Those scenes are leaps and bounds better than they were in Lambert’s version, and help illuminate Rachel’s struggles with the concept of death.

Perri Nemiroff, Collider

[I]t’s about time that Amy Seimetz become a household name, widely in demand, or whatever it is that you’d deem a major industry success. She’s already got a lengthy resume with one impressive credit after the next, and a good deal of directing experience at that, and the way she amplifies this character with such raw passion and intensity is further proof she’s one of the best of the best. It feels as though the script is designed for Louis to assume the “main protagonist” designation but whenever Seimetz is on screen, she commands every ounce of your attention with undying dedication to her family and ultimately, fully tapping into the sheer nightmare that threatens to consume it.

The horror is effective, but maybe not for everyone

Chris Evangelista, SlashFilm

Pet Sematary is unapologetically horrifying. Dread blankets the film, to the point where it’s almost suffocating. Cinematographer Laurie Rose bathes the movie in shadows and fog, and Christopher Young concocts as jarring score full of atonal sounds and ominous chanting. The terror is palpable here – and it never lets up. You’ll feel a pronounced sense of anxiety for nearly the entire runtime, sitting in the pit of your stomach like a stone.

Perri Nemiroff, Collider

Pet Sematary is highly engaging and entertaining, but it isn’t a rollicking ride that dishes out jump scares followed by a quick breather courtesy of comedic relief. It’s a layered, deeply sinister family nightmare that, yes, is packed with scares, but also a significant amount of complexity that takes those scares well beyond fleeting thrills. Pet Sematary digs its claws in quickly, injects the threat and uncertainty of impending death in your veins, and then challenges you to hold on tight as the characters are consumed by loss, desperation and violence. 

Peter Debruge, Variety

Kölsch and Widmyer, the duo behind 2014’s Hollywood horror movie Starry Eyes (and several episodes of MTV’s Scream series), do a decent job of creating atmosphere, especially in a handful of dreams that position the audience for hallucinatory jump scares, and they intensify the frequent flashbacks Rachel experiences of her late sister’s last days, but there’s the distinct feeling that they’re not doing nearly enough to distinguish this version from the one that came before.

There are also some unexpected laughs

Meagan Navarro, Bloody Disgusting

For a 2 hour run time, you never feel it. Kolsch and Widmyer keep things moving at such a brisk pace. They also layer in an unexpected lever of dark humor, which helps when the horror sinks to visceral, singular levels of edge-of-your-seat terror. 

Chris Evangelista, SlashFilm 

[Jeté Laurence, as Ellie Creed,] is tasked with a challenging part that requires her to be sweet and innocent at first, and the complete opposite as the story progresses. Laurence accomplishes both moods wonderfully, and it’s a treat to watch her descend into darkness. That darkness results in some surprisingly funny moments – moments in which the filmmakers lean into a kind of morbid comedy that you can’t help but laugh at, despite the horrible implications of it all.

Peter Debruge, Variety

The filmmakers have also tweaked the humor to reflect our new post-“The Conjuring” sensibility, where audiences can be sure that the characters know when they’re making bad ideas — such as walking into a dark basement doorway or lying down beside a zombified family member in bed — and go through with it anyway, sparking inevitable laughter.

The ending is likely to divide audiences

Meagan Navarro, Bloody Disgusting

The changes are such a big departure from the source material that it’s quite likely to ruffle feathers of book purists, but it retains the core essence of King’s themes and it always works for the better. And the final act is so absolutely off the rails bonkers that it’s amazing that a big studio release ever let it pass. It’s freaking twisted.

Britt Hayes, IndieWire

It’s in the third act that Kolsch and Widmyer’s ambitions get the best of them. The macabre poignance of the first two-thirds of the film swiftly devolves into silliness, ending on a note that is neither heartbreaking nor horrific. That’s a shame, given the 80 or so minutes that preceded it. …  Unfortunately, many of [the film’s] headier ideas are lost in the film’s final moments, as Pet Sematary spirals into the realm of the cartoonish with an ending that feels more like a punchline than a gut punch. 

Chris Evangelista, SlashFilm

[W]ill any of this win over King purists? Or fans of the ’89 movie? Anyone expecting the new Pet Sematary to play by the same rules is going to be both shocked, and maybe disappointed. The entire third act of the film in particular is wildly different from what King wrote so many years ago. 

The Hollywood Reporter‘s John DeFore also discussed the ending in his Pet Sematary write-up, but it’s spoiler-y enough that we’re not going to reprint it. If you’re curious though, you can find what he wrote right here.

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