PET SEMATARY

Dir. Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, Starring Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Rating R16

A profoundly missed opportunity to adapt one of the most iconic of Stephen King's bone-chilling tales in an effective and terrifying way, the latest update of Pet Sematary joins the ranks of other recent King projects in largely failing to capture the dread-soaked mood and depth of the original text.

Adapted for the screen only once before (in 1989), Pet Sematary is arguably the darkest story King ever wrote (and one that the writer himself has famously rejected as too dark) - while also being one of the most widely beloved.

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An existentially terrifying examination of the warping mentality of grief, Sematary tells the story of a well-to-do middle-class family that moves to a leafy suburb in Maine.

Initially, the family embraces their new home, the property of which includes a vast thatch of woods and a local pet cemetery that may or may not belie more sinister machinations beyond. However, when a tragedy strikes, the father (Jason Clarke, competent but bland) will go to horrific lengths to avert what shouldn't be undone.

John Lithgow, left, and Jete Laurence in a scene from Pet Sematary. Photos / (Kerry Hayes/AP
John Lithgow, left, and Jete Laurence in a scene from Pet Sematary. Photos / (Kerry Hayes/AP

Flatly directed by relative newcomers Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, the film trades in an exhausting excess of modern horror cliches - all the more frustrating considering the richness of the original tale and the possibilities that it holds for more ambitious film-makers.

Largely devoid of inventive cinematography or scares that stray beyond the increasingly tired "jump-scare" format, the film fails to fall back on the strength of its performances - despite a talented cast (including John Lithgow and Amy Seimetz), none of the characters are given room to breathe, nor elements that allow us to really care about their fates.

This isn't helped by ambitious alterations to the original plot that, rather than improve on the original story, instead repurpose it into something far more obvious and broad, finally arriving at an ending that suggests the most shallow, surface-level understanding of the mournful themes of King's story.

The film occasionally provides glimpses of a more interesting, stranger film lurking beneath - suggestions of the town's murky indigenous history, and a community with an unnerving relationship with the secrets that lie in the woods - but these are frustratingly left unfulfilled, focussing instead on providing a story more clean-cut but far less provocative or interesting.

Strewn with characters that often make astonishingly stupid decisions, shot like a bland television show and capped off with a stinker of a rehash of the Ramones' hit song of the same name (one that lands with a thud, so out of sync it is with the tone of what has come before), Pet Sematary is 2019's most disappointing missed opportunity so far.