This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Nick Vass’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Since I dig the inherent creepiness of Stephen King's source, it'd be hard to botch this, although this sadly fails at depicting the traumatic poignancy of losing a loved one. As for the solid, this hardly wastes any exposition on encountering Pet Sematary when married couple Louis (Jason Clarke), Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and their 8 y.o. daughter, Ellie (Jete Laurence) leave Boston for rural Maine. (The masked children procession happens within the first 10 minutes.) From then on, neighbouring widower Jud (John Lithgow) befriends the family, and gradually turns Louis' rational mindset towards the supernatural.
Where this falters, though, is strengthening the wounded despair of a loved one. So when the truck crushes Ellie on her ninth birthday; for some reason co-directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer drown out the audible sound of Louis and Rachel's wailing cries, and opt for ominous vibrations instead. (The subsequent grief is almost forgotten by the time Louis decides to exhume her from the burial ground.) In addition, the evil reincarnated segments here come off as more unintentionally humorous than anything—Church defiling a bird, Ellie dragging Rachel's body, Jud's Achilles being slashed, Louis impaled with the weathervane, etc, which needed a more ruminative draft on the directorial side.
Still, the sadistic ambience within their new home is expertly done. Beyond the actual Pet Sematary, there's a more compelling traumatic story here for Rachel. Whether it's her inability to escape the memories of her disfigured sister (wrenchingly conveyed by Seimetz), to the vents that become haunted by eerie sounds. I also liked how their home can transport Louis into a cryptic netherworld; doors open to new surroundings, he's uncertain of whether the nightly wanders are real or not, to soon acknowledge that an atheistic mindset cannot compare to ghostly terrors. Between Lithgow's taciturn, woodsy reasoning and Clarke's rigid self being yielded by truth, all of this material had me gripped.
Yet if the main crux is what happens after Ellie's death, then this latest version has sorely lost its way. (The filmmakers really screwed up how to depict Louis and Rachel's grief, where tonal spookiness has superseded human anguish.) Despite King's source being written in the early 80s, the entire showdown utilizes the lamer tropes of modern horror as well, which surely wasn't the intention. "The ground is sour", no doubt, but the heady thought behind its aftermath is not considered. This refuses to allow Louis the chance to think about whether Church and Ellie's sinister selves are better alive than dead. Had that been achieved, this would've been a tad more worthwhile.