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SYFY WIRE Pet Sematary

Critics find Pet Sematary a horrifying thrill ride that's darker than the book

By Josh Weiss
Jason Clarke as Louis Creed in Pet Sematary (2019)

Well, it seems like many of us were worrying about that Pet Sematary remake for no reason.

The horror film enjoyed its world premiere at SXSW in Austin last night and the initial reviews are insanely positive. Not only that, but some critics have made mention of the fact that there are moments even darker and more depraved than the 1983 Stephen King novel on which the project is based.

Now that's saying something because the book is pretty messed up, yo. We mean that in the best way possible; it's one of King's most frightening and unsettling books ever to be published. One reviewer went so far as to voice their shock at Paramount signing off on the new movie's "bonkers" final act.

Adapted for the screen by Jeff Buhler (Nightflyers), the reimagining (out everywhere April 5) was helmed by Starry Eyes co-directors, Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer. Jason Clarke (Terminator Genisys) plays Louis Creed, a young doctor who begins to lose his mind after learning about an ancient patch of earth that brings dead animals and people back to life. John Lithgow (Interstellar) plays Louis' neighbor, Jud Crandall, who shows him the burial ground while Amy Seimetz is Louis' death-fearing wife, Rachel.

Deviating in a big way from the novel and the 1989 film adaptation, the 2019 version of Pet Sematary (out April 5) kills off and resurrects the Creeds' young daughter, Ellie (Jeté Laurence), rather than their toddler son, Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie). While this came as a shock for longtime fans, it felt like the right swap for the filmmakers.

"Ellie is the one that’s posing all these big questions about death and mortality and the death of her animal and why do animals die before people do?" Widmyer told us at the premiere last night. "And Louis, the father, has to answer those questions so to us, the idea of being able to revisit those conversations at the dark half of the movie, just felt like going full circle with that theme, so that alone excited us … we were really excited about that and I think it shows in the film. We were able to do a lot of good stuff with that."

Here's what the critics are saying...

"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." -Peter Debruge, Variety

"The rest of the film is strongest when it lets its very fine cast explore the difficulties their characters already have along with the ones they're hiding from each other. Not everybody knows about this place of rebirth; not everybody would agree to use it if they knew. And there's a compelling mix of fear and poignancy in the reunion of a surviving family member and one who isn't quite as alive as you'd hope." -John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter

"Kölsch and Widmyer, along with screenwriter Jeff Buhler, have a blast playing with our expectations. They’re well aware that most of us will know this story, either from reading King’s novel or seeing the 1989 movie. But the fun – and fear – comes when those expectations are subverted. We may think we know where this story is going, but Pet Sematary has plenty of shocking tricks up its sleeve. The end result is a film somehow darker than the book itself, which at one point seemed impossible." -Chris Evangelista, /Film

"The new version of Pet Sematary is both darkly humorous and quite chilling, modernizing some of the cheesier emotional beats of that earlier adaptation. For much of the runtime, the directing duo confront grief and guilt in a manner that resonates deeply; familiar as viewers may be with the source material and Lambert’s take on it, Kolsch and Widmyer manage to subvert those expectations to deliver an unnerving exploration of death and its emotional effects." -Britt Hayes, IndieWire

"Jeff Buhler’s screenplay excels on so many levels. The Stephen King source material digs deep into grief, the scars trauma and loss leave, and the impossible questions surrounding our own mortality, and Buhler, Widmyer and Kölsch embrace it all. 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." -Perri Nemiroff, Collider

"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. And it does, often. There’s a level of danger that wasn’t present in the ’89 adaptation. 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." -Megan Navarro, Bloody Disgusting

"While the trailer unbelievably spoils one of the remake’s biggest plot twists, there’s still a lot of hidden references for people familiar to the story, like an updated cover version of The Ramones’ Pet Sematary over the credits. For those new to what happens, this remake will perhaps act as a gateway to checking out more adaptations of King’s stories or reading his books." -Monica Castillo, TheWrap