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Review: Pet Sematary – “Spine-twistingly scary”

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The new version of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary is directed by the guys behind the awesome Starry Eyes: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, and written by Jeff Buhler. Buhler wrote the weird-cool adaptation of Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train, and is now having a moment having scripted this as well as the incoming The Prodigy (about a creepy kid – not a rushed out Keith Flint biopic) and the new Jacob’s Ladder.

Leaving the city to spend more time with his family, Doctor Louis Creed (Jason Clarke – Zero Dark Thirty) moves to a Maine small town deep in Stephen King country with his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz – Alien: Covenant) and their kids Ellie and Gage.

The Creed’s quickly become besties with their lonely elderly neighbour Judd (John Lithgow – Blow Out) and learn that as well as being on a busy main road, their property backs onto a creepy burial ground for the neighbourhood kids’ deceased critters. These things may be important later.

Ellie and Judd become fast friends, so after her beloved cat Church is killed by a truck Judd lets Louis in on the secret of the Pet Sematary: that if you bury something on the other side of the deadfall – it will come back. Church does return. Just a bit angry, manky and scratchy. So when Ellie tragically dies too Louis begins to think the unthinkable, but will soon learn that sometimes dead is better.

Pet Sematary is not only exceptionally atmospheric and exceptionally scary, but it is also full of surprises, misdirects and teases for those familiar with the book or first film. The tension is well drawn out and Kölsch and Widmyer are not afraid to take a beat to let the dust settle or for you to start worrying about what is coming next and where this is leading.

Some of the jump scares are huge and even work on an extra level if you are already familiar with the material. Elements you may be expecting happen at different times or are given a new spin to keep you on your toes and the edge of your seat.

Rachel Creed’s role has been expanded and made more important which is another positive and the malevolent Church the cat steals every scene he’s in. Jeté Laurence is terrific as Ellie: making you love her to bits – as Judd does – before scaring the life out of you whenever she is onscreen in the second half. Speaking of Judd, Lithgow is gifted a cracking The Crown joke and gives a brilliant rendition of Stephen King’s patented Maine “Ayuh” accent.

The make-up effects are suitably grisly, and there’s a great grimy quality to events throughout. This Pet Sematary is not afraid to get grave dirt under its fingernails as Kölsch and Widmyer take the film to some awful and unforgettable places. Spine-twistingly scary and with jumps that will hit you like a truck, the new Pet Sematary proves that sometimes remake is better.

Pet Sematary is released in the UK on the 4th of April.

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