A Doctor and his family move out into the country, to begin a new life. In the woods behind their house, the daughter, Ellie, discovers a pet graveyard. But further in the woods, there is something darker, that can bring the dead pets to life…
This new film is the second film version of the Stephen King novel of the same name. The first version was made in 1989. I can’t recall seeing it at the time. I definitely saw it a couple of years ago, during a short Stephen King film retrospective at a local film festival. I have to be honest, I wasn’t a fan of it. This film also had a sequel, which I certainly haven’t seen. A good thing by all accounts.
Now, nearly 30 years later (no, really!), we have another adaptation of the novel. This version is written by Jeff Buhler (who wrote the recent and disappointing film, The Prodigy) and directed by Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer (who made the generally well received Starry Eyes). However, perhaps the most interesting credit is the one for ‘screen story’ for Matt Greenberg. I say this as, by all accounts, there have been changes made to the story from the novel (which I haven’t read) and I’m not sure who it was that decided on those changes.
However, while I can’t judge it as a good or bad adaptation of the Stephen King novel, what I can say is that as a horror film it’s a mixed bag. The directors do create a creepy atmosphere at times. There are also a couple of effective ‘jump’ moments, with the use of the cat, Church, at times truly unsettling. The co-directors have done a good job with the material.
However, for me, I don’t think the story holds up well. I mentioned not having read the novel, but it could be something in the novel itself, but the story felt slight in places. It also uses flashbacks as the mother Rachel recalls the death of her sister when younger, but they just seem to be there to pad the story I felt. There’s also a ghost of a patient, the Doctor, Louis, loses on the table. You feel it will have an important part to play in the overall story, but in truth it doesn’t.
However, those criticisms aside, it’s not a dull film, thanks in part to several good performances and one great one.
Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz play the parents, Louis and Rachel and both are pretty good. The great John Lithgow plays a neighbour Jud, who knows about the cemetery (the Sematary of the title is how children spell the word) and reveals its secrets to Louis. He too is good.
*NOTE: The following does mention potential spoilers, but they are revealed in the film trailer*
But the standout out performance is from Jete Laurence, who plays Ellie. One of the changes made in the film is that it is the older child who dies and returns, In the earlier film and book is was the younger one. She is terrific both as an inquisitive young girl and becomes truly creepy once she returns from the grave.
The violence in the film is suitably brutal and bloody, leading to a rather good ending to the film, which I think works very well indeed. The film is well shot and the music pretty good too.
But for all the things about the film I did like, the story issue for me lets it down. As I said, this is the second film adaptation of this novel I have seen and in both cases I feel something is missing. It could come from the novel, that the issue is there, but as I haven’t read that I can’t judge it on that level.
There has been a resurgence in Stephen King adaptations in the past couple of years. While this film isn’t as good as the recent IT film, it’s nowhere near as disappointing as The Dark Tower.
Not a bad film then, but sadly, no better than okay, which is a shame as I wanted to like it more.
Rating: *** out of 5