Pet Sematary (2019)

A gloomy tragedy that foregrounds the hamartia of its protagonists then sets about methodically pulling down its characters into the appropriate misery and madness. Initially only the leading wife explicitly rejects death, the husband a scientifically-minded doctor that finds the concept perfectly peaceable, but as their move to a wishfully calmer backwoods town doesn’t result in the avoidance of tragedy and stress like they wished, he too comes to reject death. His grief and madness pushes him to reject it in ways a charming neighbour played by John Lithgow (an actor absolutely vital to making the underwritten role work) warns him against doing.

What works best about the film is the coherence and focus of the script. Everything ties back into “rejecting death is unnatural, and does not end well”; from minor spousal arguments to the grand tragic setpieces. The film purposefully and continuously descends the characters further and further into the grotesquery of its premise as they continue exhibiting their tragic flaws over and over. In this sense (if not in the literal adaptational sense) the film reflects the pop-literary approach of Stephen King, the approach that makes his works connect so well with audiences and lodge as cultural memories.

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There are things the film could have done better, and indeed what it squanders (a greater sense of place – unfortunate, as the film opens with a Twin Peaks-esque atmospheric horror pan over a swaying forest -, characterisation moments that could breathe without just repeating the cycle of the film’s theme, etc.) hurts, as the focus of the film’s script could’ve been better applied. But it’s hard to see the film as a failure when the central conceit is realised so well. It’s not a revelation in any sense, but for all it gets wrong, it absolutely identifies what makes King’s work resonate so well. Three kitty hairbrushes, and a locked car.

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