“Pet Sematary,” released April 5, is the latest in a long line of modern horror masterpieces.
The film, based on the 1983 novel by Stephen King, follows members of the Creed family, who move to rural Maine to escape fast-paced Boston city life. Moving to a new house always comes with unexpected consequences, but this isn’t a run-of-the mill haunted house story.
For starters, the family inherits land they’re initially unaware of. Skeptical mom Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and young daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence) stumble upon a creepy homemade cemetery in their backyard. This titular graveyard has been used by local children for generations as a place to lay their furry friends to rest. The concept seems almost sweet on the surface, but it turns sinister after the family — primarily father Louis (Jason Clarke) — begins to learn about the other mysteries hidden in the cemetery’s woods.
What follows is a shocking string of deaths that shake the family to its core. Even in its earliest scenes, “Pet Sematary” paints an intimate and challenging portrait of grief that transcends Louis’ professional struggles as a doctor and leads other members of the family to question their relationships with death. How do they view the afterlife? Do they feel survivor’s remorse?
This marriage of grief and horror mirrors the 2018 film “Hereditary” in all the right ways, from an unwaveringly bleak tone to jarring plot developments. Like its predecessor, “Pet Sematary” is keyed into the idea that the success of family-based terror does not lie in the supernatural; rather, it lies within poignant interactions between characters.
In that same vein, interpersonal relationships are what tethers “Pet Sematary” to its source material. Fans of King’s book will likely testify that the film adaptation is extremely faithful to the text (aside from one effective role swap), largely due to its devotion to the book’s larger themes. King’s novel is a sharp criticism of society’s inability to accept the finality of death, and it offers a thoughtful exploration of the lengths someone might go to bring back a loved one. “Pet Sematary” drives these messages home, culminating in a final scene that will surely leave jaws glued to theater floors.
The movie also screams “King” through its storytelling techniques. The film dutifully represents the author’s tendency to offset complex situations with succinct, nondescript dialogue — a strategy that allows audiences to follow along with minimal confusion, but also encourages individual interpretations.
Those who enjoyed 2017’s “It” — another King adaptation — can draw comparisons there as well. Like “It,” “Pet Sematary” has roots in inexplicable small-town mythology. The movie also contains familiar touches of heart and humor, mostly from John Lithgow as a good-natured, grandfatherly neighbor to the Creeds. However, “Pet Sematary” is less apt to use comedy as levity from the story’s darkness, but rather to enhance the awfulness of the film’s tragedies.
Overall, “Pet Sematary” is essential viewing for anyone caught up in the horror genre’s recent surge of exceptional films. It’s a solid dose of heartfelt, heart-wrenching and heart-pounding entertainment, and it’s a testament to the power of literature done right on the silver screen.