Pet Sematary (**1/2, 2019)

If it weren’t for the critical miscasting of Jason Clarke, this would have been a fantastic horror movie. It’s definitely an upgrade over the 1989 version (better performances from everyone else), with some interesting plot differences as well. The basic story is that Dr. Louis Creed (Clarke) has moved his family from Boston to rural Maine to begin a new life as a university physician. The Creeds – wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter Ellie, toddler son Gage, and cat Church – slowly take to country livin’, although Rachel has her own issues to deal with (repressed memories and such). Rachel and Ellie discover a pet cemetery right in their huge wooded backyard, which new neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) helpfully educates them about. Things really kick into high gear, though, when Church the cat is found dead by the side of the road…and Jud has an idea to bury him not in the pet cemetery but in the hallowed ground just beyond it. Bad things come of this decision! As I mentioned, there are some differences between this version and the ’89 version, but they’re either an improvement or not terribly significant. A nonspoiler difference: Lithgow doesn’t try a backwoods Maine accent, like Fred Gwynne had, and I think that was a wise decision. It would have invited an unfavorable comparison to Gwynne, surely. The acting in this remake is pretty good, save for Clarke, who’s lousy. He’s pretty dull, even when Louis is slowly losing his mind. It’s as if someone told him to take a subtle approach and he understood that to mean “show little emotion.” Even his anguished yells sound constipated. Luckily, he has an ace cast surrounding him. Seimetz, who’s done a lot of independent, small-budget movies, is flippin’ great as Rachel, and Lithgow does a fine job as Jud, but really stealing the entire movie is Jeté Laurence as young Ellie. And let’s give a big hand to the five cats who play Church. Bottom line is that this remake stands on its own as an excellent horror movie, save for the dreadful lead performance.

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