The screen has benefited immensely from the prolific pen of Stephen King (filmed versions of his novels include a couple of personal favourites, Stand By Me and The Shining). Pet Sematary is the only one of his books that I have actually been able to finish and, in hindsight, it occurs to me that filmmakers enhance his work by dispensing with a lot of its dense verbiage and cutting to the chase sooner. Taking an unsentimental, blunt approach to the question of life after death, this latest adaptation is a cracker. Louis, an atheist doctor, and his wife Rachel (Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz) move to the Maine woods with their two little children, Ellie and Gage (Jeté Laurence, Hugo/Lucas Lavoie). Next door lives Jud (John Lithgow), a widower with a secret knowledge of the area, in which a medieval cortege of youngsters wearing weird animal masks, beating a tin drum, and pushing a barrow with a dog’s corpse go by. When Church, Ellie’s cat, is run over by a truck, Jud instructs Louis to bury it in a particular spot and shortly afterwards the cat reappears, alive and well, but savage in temperament. Ellie, the apple of her dad’s eye, is also killed by an oil tanker – it is a superbly executed scene – and Louis is tempted to make the Mephistophelean deal of bringing her back to life. The family’s world goes pear shaped as a result. This is such a good movie – dark in its mood, lean and unpretentious, and with a couple of genuinely scary moments (my companion, not generally prone to the heebie-jeebies, gasped involuntarily at one point). Excellent performances from Clarke and Lithgow maintain the ‘normality’ in which King nearly always sets his stories of horror, and Seimetz proves to be a natural as the cute kid gone nasty. An unnecessary attempt at connecting the back story of Rachel’s sister’s death with the momentum of the current crisis is less successful, but it does not detract from what might regarded as a classic of its type.
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