Welcome to Cinematic Essence, where I critique both contemporary and classic films and discuss how they utilize narrative, mise-en-scène and other filmmaking elements to facilitate unique experiences. I avoid spoilers when discussing recent films.
I have noticed that, when considered collectively, cinematic adaptations of Stephen King’s oeuvre are generally believed to be overwhelmingly successful. If my assertion is accurate, then it saddens me to remind you that, in contrast to popular belief, most adaptations of the work of “The King of Horror” are—for lack of a better term—bad; I credit this widespread misconception to a lengthy list of largely forgotten films, like “Graveyard Shift.” To further complicate the matter, sometimes the author and the audience disagree on which adaptations are good, as witnessed by reactions to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of “The Shining.” Fortunately, recent years have brought about numerous adaptations that I consider excellent, such as “IT” and “Gerald’s Game.” With that said, I am happy to note that the latest adaptation of “Pet Sematary” is at least as resonant as those two films.
The film is directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, and stars Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence, and—among others—four cats named Leo, Tonic, Jager and JD. Sticking pretty close to King’s novel, the plot quickly introduces us to a traditional family of four that moves to rural Maine. They quickly discover that deep in the thick forest of their new property rests an ancient burial ground with a mysterious and horrific power.
Another excellent element of the film was, naturally, the horror. However, it did not take long to realize that the sort of horror that is present in this film is not the traditional, jump-off-your-seat horror (although there certainly is quite a bit of that).
The first thing that drew me into this film—and that I did not realize until late into the second act—was that scenes are filmed in such a way as to make you forget that a world exists outside the rural neighborhood that largely comprises the setting. In fact, there exist very few scenes that are set far from the family’s house. The dense forest, morbid country roads and hazy graveyards entrap you and draw you to the alluring burial ground as you continuously find yourself feeling as bewildered or even disturbed as the characters on screen.
Another excellent element of the film was, naturally, the horror. However, it did not take long to realize that the sort of horror that is present in this film is not the traditional, jump-off-your-seat horror (although there certainly is quite a bit of that). What I mean to say is that the true horror in this film lies not in its numerous jump-scares or upsetting imagery—great as those are—but in the lingering feeling that the tragic chain of plot events could have been avoided, and—more prominently—the overwhelming sadness that the film evokes. Like in many of King’s works, supernatural and all-too-natural horror are interwoven in such a way as to have you bouncing from sadness, to terror, to intrigue, and back to more sadness. In short, I did not feel “right” for a couple hours after the end-credits rolled.
In closing, I would like to note that I have here judged “Pet Sematary” mainly as a film critic instead of a fan of Stephen King. I did so (or at least I tried to do so) because I believe that it is unjust and artistically offensive to critique an adaptation according to how closely it resembles its source material. Adaptations—good ones, at least—build on their source material. Thus, changing some elements and reframing an adapted text in an unexpected way are not treacherous practices to be condemned, but rather ought to be endorsed. After all, a brief intertextual analysis of almost any text reveals that texts are typically, in some way, adaptations of not one, but multiple preceding texts.
Christoforos Sassaris is a third-year student majoring in English with minors in computer science and creative writing. PS868710@wcupa.edu