Pet Sematary continues the proud Stephen King tradition of transforming the idyllic Maine countryside into a hollow Transylvanian soundstage of smoke machines and howling wolves. Wild-eyed characters creep through scenes of moon-blue darkness and gasp at every snapping twig. Pet Sematary goes to great effort to create this atmosphere of eeriness, and a talented cast manages to look sufficiently petrified. The only problem with it is…well, it ain’t very scary.
Based on King’s classic novel, and succeeding the original 1989 film version–which I absolutely hated–this story follows a clean-cut family as they abandon Boston for the creepy Maine boondocks. The weird, WASPy dad (Jason Clarke) works as the new town doctor; the pert, pleasant mom (Amy Semeitz) harbors some deep secrets. Their daughter (Jeté Laurence) mainly exists to be cute and precocious. It’s not long before this perfect family finds out their acreage sits on a necromantic hotbed, where the dead can be brought back as agitated zombies. A gravelly, ominous local (John Lithgow) warns them against investigating the mysteries of their own property.
Now, I don’t claim to know a whole hell of a lot about real estate transactions, but I do know that purchasing a country home would require a series of rigorous inspections. I’ve seen inspectors furiously note that a door hinge was missing a single screw, or that a wall had a tiny nail hole. How in the name of soft, suburban Jesus would any realtor get around the fact that there’s…oh, I don’t know…a pile of moaning corpses and a gateway to Hell just beyond the backyard? It seems like that would just kill your property value.
God, that’s the most adult paragraph I’ve ever written in my life. Anyway, let’s just get down to it: This Sematary is well-acted and competently made. It blows the original (and the sequel, which was twice as stinky-doo) right out of the harbor. With that said, it’s still 100 minutes of…meh. Don’t get me wrong, I know jump-scares and screeching orchestra hits are just a part of movies like this. But after the first 15 or so bullshit gotcha moments came and went, I found myself yawning and wondering if there was a specific person in charge of the smoke machines. I mean, what’s their title? Smoke wrangler? Fog specialist? Ooh, I got it–mist assistant!
It’s a bad sign if your horror movie inspires rampant daydreaming like that. Granted, I’m pretty scatterbrained, but still. Recent movies like Us and A Quiet Place prove that a film can be smart, scary, and subtle, all at once. Pet Semetary occasionally delivers two outta three, but that’s only acceptable if you’re Meat Loaf. This is a sometimes-decent, often-dull horror movie that’s worth a future look when channel-surfing, but safe to skip in theaters.