Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Pet Sematary (2019) Trailer

    My mind works like this:  I watch a trailer for a remake of a classic horror movie, and I’m ticking checkmark boxes mentally as the trailer plays.  I’m assessing the mood, style, acting, and story, and seeing if it’s on pace with the source material.  When I watched the second trailer for Pet Sematary (2019), a couple of check boxes were missed. The animal mask that Ellie wears and the ceremonial burial seemed like a forced attempt a being scary, and there were certain things that just rubbed me the wrong way. When the big twist to the original was revealed I thought, “Well this is dumb.”
    I watched the original Pet Sematary shortly after it was released on video back around 1990, and it became the stuff of legend to me, easily the most terrifying movie I had seen up to that point.  I found the paperback novel for sale at Wal-Mart a few months later, and convinced my mother to buy it for me.  I was in fifth grade at the time and though it took months, I eventually finished the entire book.
    I’m thirty-seven years old now.  Since the first time I picked up that book, I’ve read it at least four times at various points in my life, and have seen the movie easily fifteen times.  Probably way more than that.  After my latest reading of the novel, having become an adult and father of two kids, I can now more than ever appreciate how horrific the story is.  There’s no wonder King himself hid the manuscript away once he’d finished, assuming no one would ever want to publish such a thing.   
   In the book, Ellie Creed is the inquisitive daughter, the one that gets mad at God when she realizes her cat could possibly die, the one that stirs the tension between her parents without even knowing it, the one that brings the subject of death to the front and center of the story.  She is also the one that is telepathically linked to Victor Pascow, the “good ghost,” that tries to warn the Creeds when things start going wrong.  Gage on the other hand is a blank slate, the picture of uncorrupted innocence.  The kid’s so cute in both the book and the movie that you can’t envision anything bad happening to him at all and, once it does, you get the feeling that there is nothing safe in the world anymore. 
    That brings me to my point concerning the Pet Sematary remake coming in April.  The twist that I thought was dumb was that the filmmakers switched which child is killed.  Now, it’s the older sister Ellie that is struck by the eighteen-wheeler. When I realized this, my first thought was that Gage is supposed to die because he is innocence personified.  While losing either child would be equally catastrophic for the parents, the loss of a child that is barely more than a baby has more power as far as storytelling goes.  It's more shocking.  When Gage comes back in the novel it is almost blasphemous it is so horrific.  He is a disfigured shell, being driven by an evil force that makes him speak of disturbing things that no child would ever know to say.  That’s how we see the wickedness of the Micmac burial ground.  It has led this innocent child into the road, knowing that Louis’s bereavement will drive him mad enough to bring the child to it.  It is using this poor innocent being as a puppet to carry out despicable deeds.
    For the most part, even within the horror genre children are largely left alone.  You can pretty well bet when you see a kid in a horror movie, especially a younger kid under the age of ten, that they will escape any dangerous situation a horror movie throws at them (there are, of course, exceptions, but I’m talking about the majority here).  Stephen King is not afraid to fight dirty when he’s telling you a story, and that’s why his fans love his books.  Despite the supernatural elements that pervade most of his works, his stories are about real people and real life, and in real life sometimes the worst possible thing happens to ones we least expect to be harmed.  In the case of Pet Sematary, it also turns that innocent life into a foul-mouthed killer demon that likes to play mind games with its victims. 

    I read interviews from the filmmakers that explained why they changed the story, hoping as I read that I would find something to ease my concern, but their justification  made it even worse.  There were a few reasons it was done, but chief among them were the fact that working with a toddler in such intense situations would prove too difficult.  They likened it to the movie Child's Play, which uses and animatronic doll for the majority of Chucky's screen time. The idea was that we've seen that before (after which I thought "We've seen a killer in a mask stalking people in a house before, too!")They added that the older child, Ellie, would understand what happened to her, and would be able to play mind games with the parents because she was more developed.  
    That line of thinking, in my opinion, is where their version could go wrong.  The entity from the Micmac burial ground that influences the dead is an invader of the corpse.  There is nothing left of the living being that once existed inside that body, and because of that it doesn't matter if Ellie understood that she had died.  She doesn't have to be old enough or clever enough to play mind games, because the entity is clever enough.  That's the horror of this thing: the person that comes back isn't the same person.  They may look like that person, but they aren't that person.  Something else is running the show now.  In my opinion it's way more horrifying to have a toddler's dead body possessed by this thing.  The demon can play head games just as easily with the four-year-old as with an eight-year-old, but it is so much more dreadful to do it with the younger one.
    Having said all that, I do understand that filmmakers need to make changes to tell their own tale.  I get that people are affected by different aspects of a story.  Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, for example, is so different from the book that Stephen King himself didn't like the film, though it became a horror classic in it's own right.  I love The Shining.  I hold out hope that, if the filmmakers of Pet Sematary have toyed with the themes of this story as much as I suspect they have, it will still be an entertaining movie in it's own right.
    I'll even secede the point that maybe the older child will add a new dynamic that will pleasantly surprise me.  She has more character development in the book and the 1989 film than Gage does, so maybe the audience will become more emotionally invested in her character.  Ellie's character is the one that is the most concerned with death, except maybe her mother Rachel (*fingers crossed* please let Zelda be creepy, please let Zelda be creepy...), so maybe there is some logic in having her die instead of Gage. There is a lot more physically that can be done with an older child as well, as her size will prove to be more menacing than a toddler. In the end, though, I just don't think her intelligence or cunning or size should really have anything to do with it.  The place beyond the Pet Sematary is evil.  The force that lives at the burial ground is what we should be afraid of, no matter what corpse is harboring it.

Watch the trailer for yourself below, and feel free to discuss!


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