Demand for Stephen King content is high right now, but will "Pet Sematary" live up to the hype? (Illustration by Natashna Anderson, School of the Art Institute of Chicago)
Screens x
Demand for Stephen King content is high right now, but will "Pet Sematary" live up to the hype? (Illustration by Natashna Anderson, School of the Art Institute of Chicago)

For a number of reasons, it seems unlikely.

Halloween is just around the corner, and Paramount Pictures took advantage of the season by teasing Stephen King fans with a “Pet Sematary” (2019) trailer. The film is set to be released in theaters in April 2019 and is a reboot of the original 1989 film adaptation of the novel, “Pet Sematary,” written in 1983. The ’80s project was successful enough to warrant the production of a sequel in 1992. However, King did not contribute to the second installation whatsoever, and he never wrote another novel to follow his original book. In a way, the lack of authentic writing for “Pet Sematary Two” left fans of the novel high and dry for an adequate illustration.

Based on the amplified lucidity of the terror previewed through CGI, special effects and several high-profile cast members, “Pet Sematary” appears to be employing a similar approach to the “It” campaign for success. The lucrative 2017 King adaptation not only grossed $700 million worldwide, but also ranks ahead of every individual work in the horror genius’s extensive collection of films. Therefore, it is clear that King has wide-reaching appeal, even after decades.

Additionally, because the “It” release was so recent, it is apparent that the demand for King’s content is at its peak right now. Could “Pet Sematary” be the ideal second serving of King the world is salivating over? Will the reboot achieve the same acclaim reached with “It”? Or does it even have the potential to surpass it?

Some would think, “Well of course, why not?” I did just mention the motion picture’s high-end special effects, the glowing faces of well-renowned stars and a thriving demand for content. Nonetheless, there are still foundational aspects of the “Pet Sematary” plot that might prohibit the film from reaching such a level of recognition.

A characteristic of the story that may cap box office attendance is the absence of a central villain as the antagonist. As copious numbers of horror franchises have proven, one monster, killer, cannibal or whatever kind of villain you fancy has ultimate power in driving a fan base’s size and loyalty. This relationship is partially based on the way each individual villain can make an impression in a viewer’s mind; similar to the way companies use mascots as a constant attention grabber for their customers.

Another reason for the necessity of a single antagonist is that, for many people, characters provide the utmost entertainment for a film’s experience. The striking performances by Tim Curry in the 1990 mini-series adaptation of “It” and Bill Skarsgård’s haunting eyes in the reboot could arguably be the main factors in the franchise’s success. Thus, “Pet Sematary” is already missing a major ingredient in the recipe for horror flick prowess.

Furthermore, “It” exudes positive themes and concludes with resolution, while “Pet Sematary” is darker and teaches a more cynical lesson. The 2017 film’s themes are centered around unity and perseverance, as the story focuses on several kids that must come together to overcome “fear.” That underlying message is not only made crystal clear to the audience, but also seems to resonate with adults of all ages through nostalgia. Positive nostalgia, at that.

In contrast, “Pet Sematary” evokes PTSD, with the death of pets and infants being a pivotal factor in its plot. The contents of the story are very murky, until suddenly striking flesh red at the climax. The original film definitely implies a general life takeaway, but due to its rapid sequence of escalating events, it is difficult to catch on to a clear message. The plot also concludes tragically and with zero resolution, leaving movie-goers in a very rigid state. Yes, there are a great many horror films that have unfortunate endings that appeal to shock value, but in order for a horror film to reach the status of “It,” the movie must be able to find a common ground between sheer terror and an overall satisfying cinematic experience.

Another road block is that “Pet Sematary” will have difficulty producing a sequel of any kind, as there is a scarcity of viable material to evolve the story into a new setting. King only wrote one book centered in the world of “Pet Sematary,” and the previous attempt at an artificial sequel was perceived by many as a tremendous flop. The options are very limited for moving forward after the film, which imposes a fixed ceiling.

“It” was well orchestrated in the choice to split its plot into two films from the start, effectively improving on the highly critiqued use of incessant flashbacks throughout the 1990 miniseries. Instead, the reboot of the clown-horror encapsulated the characters’ experiences as children in the first film and saved their experiences as adults for the forthcoming sequel.

“Pet Sematary” should surely scramble your sense of safety and reason, as the plot runs along the lines of a gruesome nightmare. However, it is distinctly missing critical components from the example set by “It” on how to most effectively reboot a Stephen King film into the stratosphere.

Keep in mind, not all films need to define their genre for a given period of time. Some can simply be a good watch. With a less critical lens, it is apparent that there are many exciting qualities “Pet Sematary” presents in its new trailer. For instance, the cast is headed by Jason Clarke and John Lithgow. The raw emotion Clarke gives off in high profile roles, such as Dan in “Zero Dark Thirty” and George Wilson in “The Great Gatsby,” will thrive in the horror environment King imagined. Likewise, though John Lithgow can play the softest senior male characters imaginable, he has a fairly captivating dark side that he exhibited in Season 5 of “Dexter” as a serial killer and “Raising Cain.” The unparalleled flair these actors offer should allow them to effectively lead and build chemistry with each other and the rest of the cast.

Not only does the cast grab attention, but the overall look of the trailer is dynamite. The lighting, the camera angles and the way the roadside house and cemetery have been rebuilt should get any fan of the original to do a double-take. From what is shown, the vivid CGI is going to tremendously enhance the experience of the $11 million budgeted, 1989 original.

I am excited to see the film this spring but I still sort of wish it were “The Shining” or another more reputable King classic being remade. The decision to commit to “Pet Sematary” could end up being a missed opportunity to introduce a reboot of another story. However, no one will know for sure until the film finally releases. Until then, beware of bustling Mack trucks when crossing the street and remember how “cemetery” is actually spelled.

Pet Sematary (2019)- Official Trailer- Paramount Pictures


Leave a Reply