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Movie Review

Their move will be a good one. Louis and Rachel Creed are sure of it. Yes, the sleepy little town of Ludlow, Maine, will take some adjusting to after living in the ever-beating heart of Boston. But the plusses are obvious.

By leaving his big-city nightshift job and taking a more prominent position at the local Ludlow hospital, Louis can actually be a doctor who sees his family once in a while. And the improved economic situation will allow Rachel to be a stay-at-home mom. Eight-year-old Ellie and toddler Gage are bound to thrive.

On top of that, the big house they were able to purchase is on a wonderfully large stretch of land covered in hills and lush trees. I mean, it’s like having a national park in your backyard. There’s no question: This is a good move. It will be a healthy, thriving, life-giving change of pace.

There are a few drawbacks, however.

For one, the country road that runs in front of their property tends to be populated by trucks that scream by at reckless speeds. Someone could get hurt if they’re not careful. But their nearby neighbor, an old withered gent named Jud, says they’ll get used to it. And he should know: He’s lived here all his life.

Louis and Rachel have really grown to like old Jud. He’s been a settling, calming presence in their lives in the short time they've known him. And he’s definitely taken a shine to little Ellie, who has charmed him with her bounding dances and youthful joy. Yep, Louis and Rachel are certain that things will be good from here on out.

But then their cat, Church, gets hit by one of those speeding trucks. Rachel is afraid Ellie will be devastated, especially since it happened so soon after the move. Jud feels so sorry for the dear girl. He suggests that he and Louis bury the cat that night.

Turns out there’s this place called the “pet sematary” where local kids have buried their pets in ritualistic fashion for ages. It’s actually just a short walk into the woods behind the Creeds' house. But, Jud tells Louis, if he’s really concerned about little Ellie’s feelings, there’s a stretch of swampy land just behind that burial ground that might make for a better spot.

Louis isn’t sure why they’re taking an extra trek through this muddy, mist-clogged place. Or why they're burying the cat on a particular hilltop, then stacking a stone cairn on top of it. But Jud assures him that it will be worth the effort.

And when Church unexpectedly climbs through Ellie’s window the next morning, well, it seems ol' Jud might have been right.

One look in the cat’s eyes, though, makes it pretty plain that Jud wasn’t right at all. In fact, things suddenly aren't going as well as Louis and Rachel had hoped.

Sometimes dead is better, don’t you know? And no one should mess with things that are dead … or used to be.

[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]

Positive Elements

You could say that all of the really dumb choices made here were motivated, initially, by love. (Though, it should be said, Louis and Jud are both driven by a certain selfishness.)

As the story unfolds, one character makes a self-sacrificial choice to save another from the horrors that have crawled out of the so-called "pet sematary."

Spiritual Content

There are dark, relatively unexplained, spiritual forces at play at the heart of this tale. The “pet sematary” itself is a small burial ground decorated by crosses and adorned with mixed images of pets and Jesus. We see a procession of kids dressed in animal masks carrying a dead dog to this resting area. Eventually, we learn that the mysterious supernatural force reanimating dead things actually emanates from the swamplands somewhere behind the pet cemetery.

Louis looks on a map and sees that the area is called “Little God Swamp.” That area is always engulfed by fog and mist, there are human bones beneath the swampy waters, and strange growls and howls fill the air there. Jud comments on feeling a spiritual draw to the place. He later reports that there are legends of a native tribe that once populated the area, as well as an evil creature called a Wendigo. At one point we see the shadowed form of such a creature in the woods.

The main conceit here, of course, is that any dead thing buried in that creepily phantasmal place is brought back to "life." We see Church and several humans "resurrected" there. However, the reanimated individuals are always less and more than they were—a dark demonic anger and deadliness intertwined with the people they used to be.

Both Louis and Rachel also have unexplained nightmares and visions. Louis is unable to save a young man at the hospital who was horrendously injured in a car accident, and that torn and broken guy reappears to him repeatedly and warns him about breaching the “barrier that was not meant to be broken.” Rachel also comes upon pictures of her dead sister while unpacking. She relives memories and has visions of that young woman’s horrible death, eventually seeing herself crippled and tormented by the same body-deforming disease her sister struggled with.

Early on, Rachel tries to ease Ellie’s concerns about death, suggesting that the dead go to heaven and watch over us. Louis balks at the idea, later revealing to Rachel that he has no belief in any kind of afterlife. He also suggests that they not fill Ellie’s head with any such notions.

Later, after Rachel recognizes the seemingly demonic things that Louis has been messing with, she makes it clear that God didn’t intend things to return from the dead, insisting that the dead should go to be with God. Louis' response to that idea is a profane and angry one.

A cross hangs on Jud’s bedroom wall. A funeral takes place in a cross-strewn graveyard.

Sexual Content

Rachel wears a T-shirt and brief shorts to bed. She and Louis kiss and fall back into a loving embrace. She wraps her bare leg around him. But they are interrupted and pulled away from their intimacy.

Violent Content

The bloodiest visuals hit us at the beginning of the film as a young man is brought into the Ludlow hospital. Louis rushes to give aid, and the camera examines the man’s savaged, bleeding face and broken body—bones protruding from wounds and blood gushing. This fellow, with all his torn flesh, reappears several times in lifelike spectral/visionary form throughout the film. In addition, we see the body of Ellie’s cat, Church, very bloody and broken after he's hit by (apparently) a truck.

A young girl gets also hit by a jackknifing fuel truck in an excruciatingly choreographed accident, killing her instantly. (The truck barely misses a toddler.) We don’t see the dead girl’s initial injuries, but when she’s resurrected, we’re shown her stapled together scalp wounds, dead flesh and facial deformities. Someone bathes her and accidentally rips chunks of hair out of her head.

The camera closely examines parts of Rachel’s sister’s deformed body. Rachel then relives that same agony as a crippling bone disease twists her jaw and extremities into lumpy knots a well.

Rachel also remembers how, as a child, she accidentally contributed to her sister’s death as her sister fell into a dumbwaiter. We see that gruesome, body-shattering death from two different perspectives.

As Louis walks through the swamplands, we see him step on a large number of human bones beneath the shallow water.

Elsewhere, a man’s Achilles tendon is savagely sliced open with a surgeon’s scalpel. He falls, but his further struggles literally snap his foot from his leg. He’s also stabbed over and over in the upper body by that blade. (We see his gory corpse.)

Someone's house is set aflame. Another man gets stabbed in the upper body with a butcher knife and then impaled by a large metal cross. A woman is stabbed repeatedly with a butcher knife and then, when she falls, tortured further as her assailant inserts the blade in her abdomen and twists it slowly. Her bloody corpse is dragged across the ground.

A man bites, beats and chokes a young girl and threatens to chop off her head with a shovel.

Crude or Profane Language

There are five or six exclamations each of both f- and s-words, along with a handful of uses of “b--ch,” “d--n” and “h---.” God’s and Jesus’ names are misused seven times total, with the former being combined with “d--n” in four of those instances.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Characters drink wine, beer and scotch. Someone unknowingly ingests a sleeping drug. Jud smokes cigarettes repeatedly.

Other Negative Elements

Someone desecrates a grave.

Conclusion

The latest version of Pet Sematary unveils yet another cinematic take on Stephen King’s 1983 horror novel—a book the author reportedly hesitated to publish for fear he had ventured too far into the realm of nightmare.

And this is, indeed, an unsettling bad dream of a movie. Initially it offers an intertwining rumination on loss, grief and guilt, passions that go far beyond the death of a beloved pet. And as effective horror movies do, it holds viewers' feet to the fire and forces them to think on spiritual things.

Pet Sematary isn’t, however, concerned with good-versus-evil triflings. Its spiritual meditation is black on black. It’s more consumed with the idea of mankind’s inevitable foul choices. We will choose selfishly, this grim pic asserts. We will be foolish, even when we know the outcome will be foul. And the ethereal terrors waiting just outside our shortsighted corporeal view will pounce when we do so: All hope is lost, and even the innocent will perish.

You could see this as a cautionary tale, I suppose. But if so, it's a dark and cynical one. And as the bloody-minded conclusion careens toward us like a speeding fuel truck on a back road strewn with children, it becomes a bleak and horrible one as well.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Jason Clarke as Louis; Amy Seimetz as Rachel; Jeté Laurence as Ellie; John Lithgow as Jud; Hugo and Lucas Lavoie as Gage

Director

Kevin Kölsch ( )Dennis Widmyer ( )

Distributor

Paramount Pictures

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

April 5, 2019

On Video

July 9, 2019

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Bob Hoose

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
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