- Sometimes Dead is Better:A Review of Pet Sematary
In the 1989 horror film Pet Sematary, the line between the living and dead is thin. The Creed family—Dr. Louis Creed, his wife Rachel, toddler son Gage, daughter Ellie, and her cat Church—move to a middle-of-nowhere Maine town. Their new neighbor, a misguided albeit well-intentioned elderly man named Jud Crandall, introduces them to a Micmac burial ground nestled in the nearby woods that feeds on human insecurity and the subconscious desire to cheat death and grief. Unbeknownst to the Creed family, any burial in this cemetery brings destruction and murder through false promises of immortality. Somehow, the scariest part of Pet Sematary is not the resurrection of Louis Creed's son or wife—who come back pale, mangled, and zombified—but Creed's inability to accept their sudden deaths in the first place. What separates this film from others in the horror genre is that it is not concerned with jump scares, gore, or what lurks in the shadows. This is not a film about monsters, or a killer stalking his prey. This is a film about the horror of loss, and the human reluctance to grieve.
In 2019, Paramount Pictures released a remake of Pet Sematary directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer. There are several plot points within the remake that are different than the original, presumably [End Page 115] changed to make the film less campy and more of a serious film than Mary Lambert's 1989 original. The most notable change in the 2019 adaptation is the death of eight-year-old Ellie, hit by an oncoming truck, rather than two-year-old Gage. Jason Clarke, who plays Louis Creed in the new adaptation, likened the film's portrayal of grief to Frankenstein: "If you do build it . . . you're responsible for it. It's not just that you build a monster, the monster is alive and it is yours to look after" (qtd. in Mirabal). Therefore, Ellie personifies grief and regret as a literal monster that keeps coming back home to remind her parents of their mistakes. Matthew Greenberg, who wrote the screen story for the new film, said that he "saw Pet Sematary as [Stephen King's] King Lear," citing Lear's loss of his daughter Cordelia (qtd. in Murphy); in the play, Lear quite literally dies of grief. It is also possible that the image of adorable, angry Gage growling and wielding a knife was too comical or campy for the new film, and that the familiar horror movie trope of a scary little girl in a dress would be a better fit.
In the new film, the character of Ellie is no longer a whiny, anxious child who serves as a plot device for the unraveling of Louis and Rachel's sense of morale. Instead, she has a close relationship with her father: Journalist Lindsay Romain says of the new Ellie, "she's a spitfire, but completely adorable–all of which makes the gravity of her death even more harrowing." After Ellie is resurrected, she taunts her father, dances around the house, practicing her ballet routine in the dress she was buried in, and is fully aware of her undead condition. Louis Creed does ultimately die, killed by the undead Rachel, who then buries him in the pet cemetery. The result: Louis, Rachel, and Ellie become a zombie-like trio and descend upon a frightened Gage just before the credits roll. This new ending implies that the entire family is killed due to their refusal to grieve and accept death, rather than leaving behind one family member to grieve alone. Viewers will also note that Rachel's sister Zelda is killed by falling down the shaft of an elevator, rather than succumbing to her chronic illness while a helpless Rachel stands by. According to film writer Brandon Zachary, "The new film explores her trauma more than just the effect is has on her family, giving audiences a better look at a woman who...