NOTE: This review originally ran when the movie opened, but I'm cheating and repeating it here for those who may have missed it.
A tragic funeral procession...for a deceased beloved pet, or for the movie?
I just saw the latest adaptation of PET SEMATARY and, in the immortal words of Johnny Rotten, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" I freely admit that PET SEMATARY is hands down my favorite Stephen King novel and that I was never a fan of the 1989 adaptation, which to me looked and felt like a cheap made-for-TV movie, so after the superb recent remake of IT, I approached the new PET SEMATARY with hope.
WARNING: FROM HERE ON, SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!
- The film starts out with a flash-forward to nearly the end of the film, then promptly skips back to the start if the story proper. Why this was done I cannot begin to tell you.
- The characters are given little or no fleshing out and what we do understand about them is hugely dependent upon the viewer having read the novel. I cared about no one onscreen.
- The pacing and omission of certain plot elements renders the narrative into a Crib Notes version of itself, eradicating most of the story's atmosphere and thematic weight.
- Unlike in the novel, Church is never put down after his resurrection as something malevolent, thus robbing the story of Louis truly understanding why using the burial ground is not a good idea.
- The sub-plot about Rachel's judgmental asshole of a father is completely omitted, and with it goes one of the most intense and emotionally wrenching moments in the original story, namely the wake. In fact we only see brief glimpses of her parents, or at least I assume they were her parents, as they are never identified as such and they also have maybe one line each.
- The filmmakers switch the wrenching narrative purposes of the Creed children, so it is now Ellie who is killed by the truck, the reason given by the filmmakers being that they could get a better performance from an older child. That made sense on paper, but by swapping 9-year-old Ellie for two-year-old Gage, her resurrection is just nowhere near horrific enough. Also, as a result of that change, the last third of the story is more or less rewritten and swapped out for a headlong descent into full-tilt stupidity.
- When Ellie returns, she is at first merely stoic and Louis attempts to restore things to normal with her. She, however, twigs to the fact that she was dead and soon becomes malevolent. Her mother, sensing the cosmic wrongness afoot, returns home with Gage and finds her husband, who basically says "It's okay, honey. I just dug up our daughter's corpse, buried her again in a magic burial ground, and now she's back," at which point Ellie shows up and freaks her mother the fuck out.
- As the shit hits the fan and Ellie goes all Norman Bates, Louis locks Gage in the family car and tells him not to unlock the door for anyone, "Not even mommy and daddy." He then goes inside the house, where he is knocked unconscious by Ellie, who has just murdered her mother. Ellie drags her mom's body to the burial ground and inters her, only to have her father show up and the two engage in a final battle...until the resurrected Rachel drives a handy piece of rebar through Louis's back and out of his chest. The scene fades and then things fade back up to the opening flash-forward (now the present), and we see the house ablaze. Gage, still in the car, notes the burning house, then his parents, sister, and cat approach the car. They beseech him to let them in and the credits roll (to the feeble accompaniment of a wan remake of the Ramones' 1989 PET SEMATARY theme song).
Less than a half-hour into the film, groups of people got up and walked out, and the exodus continued throughout. During the last half-hour, there were numerous audience exclamations of "What???" and "What the fuck???" before things degenerated to outright booing. I even let fly with "This is some fucking bullshit!" which was met with "You said it, muthafukka!!!" When the film finally ended, I have never seen a movie theater's auditorium clear out so fast.
Anyone who can find enjoyment in this film has probably never gotten within ten miles of the source novel and what this adaptation did to it can be considered nothing less than a desecration, especially when taking its sequel-bait "zombie family" ending into account.
PET SEMATARY, my caramel-colored ass. "Shit Sematary," more like. AVOID.