Pet Graveyard: This kitty lacks claws
Review by Mari Jones
If Pet Graveyard sounds familiar to you, that’s exactly what its filmmakers are hoping for. Indeed, it’s no coincidence that this Brit horror is being released at the same time as that other big film with ‘Pet’ in the title, the distributors almost certainly hoping people will mistake this for that highly anticipated Stephen King adaptation. But unfortunately, that potential mix-up is just about the scariest thing you’ll encounter when watching this.
If you’re expecting a tale of creepy animals and rotting corpses, then you’ll be doubly disappointed by Pet Graveyard, its narrative instead a much deeper tale about grief and loss, something that Lily (Jessica O’Toole) and her brother Jeff (David Cotter) know all about. Struggling to overcome their pain after the death of their mother, Jeff discovers a way they can both make peace after two strangers (Rita Siddiqui and Hindolo Koroma) approach him with a ritual they’ve found online (as you do), which allows people to cross over to the other side to see their loved ones. It’s a risky strategy that involves killing yourself and getting someone to revive you, but it’s a sacrifice Jeff is willing to make if he knows he can have closure. But cheating death comes with a price, something that becomes clear when the group find themselves stalked by a sinister cat only they can see. And when they realise this kitty belongs to the Grim Reaper, they know he’s more than a little bit pissed off about the three souls he’s lost.
Much like its title, that plot might also fill you with a strong sense of déjà vu, its obvious similarity to other, much better horrors making this a predictable affair from the get go. With the idea of ‘brinking’ taken almost straight out of Flatliners, director Rebecca Matthews and writer Suzy Spade don’t really attempt anything new with their material, happy to simply recycle tropes and ideas from this and other films such as Final Destination, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and many more. This can make for tiresome viewing, the lack of originality making you feel like you’re watching someone make a horror film from a checklist, each part designed to follow in some footsteps rather than branch out in its own, interesting ways. It also doesn’t help that the plot and the idea of ‘brinking’ has to be explained to us with several lengthy scenes of exposition, moments that often slow the narrative down to a stop, and which sometimes seem in danger of complicating the story way more than it needs to be (a Reaper only they can see kills them, to then try and kill them again in the afterlife??).
That all being said, Pet Graveyard makes the most of what it’s got, Matthews direction still able to ramp up the tension throughout, while the film itself is well shot and has a couple of memorable sequences. In particular the scene of the group ‘brinking’ is genuinely horrid, Matthews stretching it out to uncomfortable lengths to emphasise how desperate these grieving people are to see their loved ones. The moments of them all wandering the other side for the first time is also surprisingly effective, the dark abyss they encounter perfectly haunting, even if it does seem similar to the sunken place from Get Out. However, the scares don’t really work, the annoying reliance on loud, ominous music and jump scares often negating the taut build-up that’s come before it. And it’s difficult not to dismiss the film altogether when a lot of these scares revolve around the Grim Reaper’s hairless cat – an animal that only those with a phobia of felines will find in the least bit terrifying.
It’s a shame that Pet Graveyard’s flaws are so hard to ignore when the film’s central idea of loss has so much potential behind it, least of all with the relationship between Lily and Jeff – an interesting pair who have one or two genuinely touching moments together, and who are brought to adequate life onscreen by Jessica O’Toole and David Cotter. In fact, it is O’Toole who often manages to keep the story going during the duller parts, her emotional performance even able to lift the material a few times. But sadly, she can’t save what’s going on here, that lack of originality really miring the film, even during the ending. Throw in some questionable performances from some of the secondary characters and some very dubious American accents, and Pet Graveyard is a horror best avoided. And if that sounds like a harsh assessment, just ask those people who have mistakenly watched this rather than Pet Sematary.
Rating: 1½ out of 5
(Pet Graveyard is released on DVD and digital from 2nd April 2019).