Ancient burial grounds, child death, and grave robbing: What could go wrong? Though both film adaptations of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary adhere to the same loose narrative, the two are undeniably adverse in crucial details and even boast contrary endings. The overall consensus? One (1989) is a generally accurate, charmingly quirky rendition of an iconic novel, while the other (2019) is a lazy copycat that highlights the counterproductivity of remaking films without genuine need.
With classics like The Lost Boys and An American Werewolf in London, the off-the-wall uniqueness of ’80s film is underappreciated. Only 40 years old at the most, the majority of scary movies from this era can still hold their own. Fans of the genre know all too well the horror of a premature or straight-up unnecessary remake (cough, cough The Thing). As expected, Pet Sematary (2019) is no exception in this unoriginal cycle.
Now, the remake is not awful as it houses strong talent and visually appealing shots, but the thing is: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. The creative use of dexterous effects and remarkable makeup techniques is highly underrated in the original Pet Sematary. A prime example is Zelda, Rachel’s sister, who died of spinal meningitis. From the chartreuse tinge in the 1989 version of Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek) ‘s practically translucent skin, exposed vertebrae, and bulging eyes, her (or his) appearance is harrowingly convincing. In the 2019 adaptation, Zelda (Alyssa Levine) is more accurate in terms of age, but the CGI is so blatant it detracts from the character’s authenticity.
Another contemporary hindrance is the remake opting for a smoke and mirrors setting that plays up spooky ambiance rather than following the original’s utilization of eerie realism. This overreaching technique is evident when Jud (John Lithgow) first takes Louis (Jason Clarke) to the ancient burial ground. The night air is thick with murky fog and the surrounding forest loud with wailing creatures. In the original, the pair visit the patch of soured earth in broad daylight, allowing its significance and ritually placed rocks to do the unnerving.
Pet Sematary (2019) mostly keeps its dialogue and plot points similar to its predecessor but unfolds two notable deviations. The first is without consequential impact: playing a switcheroo on which kid becomes roadkill. The second alteration is a biggie. Instead of ending the film with Gage double-dead, Louis single-dead, and Rachel undead while Ellie remains alive in Chicago, the remake turns the Creeds into one big, happy family of somewhat coherent, but equally bloodthirsty, zombies. Without a thoroughly bleak outcome, the twisted tale is deprived of closure; even the film’s tone is convoluted with a sudden spark of playfulness.
Despite its shortcomings, one mention-worthy attribute of the 2019 adaptation is Jason Clarke’s portrayal of Louis Creed. His portrait of grief is so chilling, it blows Dale Midkiff (1989) right out of the water. As exemplified through his roles, such as the heartbroken George Wilson in The Great Gatsby (2013), Clarke’s depiction of raw devastation is like no other. With eyes as puffy as golf balls, a voice as unstable as a flimsy ladder, and lips as shaky as an earthquake, the tortured expressions he imitates are striking.
Unfortunately, Clarke’s performance is not enough to make the film worthwhile, and though it’s an entertaining watch, the movie is far from embodying the campy creepiness of the 1989 adaptation. The solution? Instead of investing time in the exhausted, forgo a modern telling of the same story and explore underrated films also based on King’s ominous novels such as Storm of the Century, Thinner, and Apt Pupil.