“Pet Sematary” (2019) horror film review

“Sometimes dead is better.” Unless you’re back from the dead with a vengeance! Brace yourself for the spine-chilling, immensely terrifying 2019 adaptation of the best-selling novel Pet Sematary by the legendary Stephen King. Whereas many remakes/reboots of earlier horror films often suffer, this one emerges from the soured soil as a force to be reckoned with. Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer deliver a heartpounding rollercoaster of a nightmarish experience as Pet Sematary opens everywhere this weekend. Instead of a direct from page to screen adaptation, much like the fantastic 1989 original version (and yes, it still holds up), this version takes some creative liberties; however, the soul of the novel and even the 1989 version is clearly there. This creative latitude enabled the film to deliver new, surprising scares that are sure to frighten you. If you haven’t seen the extended trailers–DON’T–cannot say that enough. It’s best to go into this film with only the name and the initial teaser trailer in your mind. Not a spoiler, because it’s well known this this horror film and novel deals with loss, grief, and the uncanny (i.e. the return of the repressed), so the challenge of this adaptation was to force the conflict to derive from those issues and inspire the hellish events for which the story is well known. 2019’s Pet Sematary delivers in spades–quite literally. You will feel the ominous sense of dread from the moment the Creeds move into their new house and that feeling will stay with you as you are buried in a nightmare. This plot is solid.

I joined the popular podcast Mike Mike and Oscar to discuss this film, so click below to listen to the show. You are also invited to continue reading my written review.

Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home. When tragedy strikes, Louis turns to his neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), setting off a perilous chain reaction that unleashes an unspeakable evil with horrific consequences (IMDb summary). Sometimes dead is better

Let’s address the white ‘el’ephant in the room first. And I don’t mean the major plot twist changed from the novel and 1989 film that we saw in the trailer (c’mon, this is a well-known story and trailer at this point)–I mean the dialogue. Is the dialogue horribly bad? No. But it’s definitely the weak element in the script. Fortunately, this movie makes up for that with incredible windup, excellent deliveries, and the fact it is nightmarishly creepy. The pacing and tone are excellently crafted, and the visuals are fantastic. Never one does this film attempt to prove that it’s better than the original; in fact, it takes what many of us love about the original and use those moments as expertly designed fake-outs and false setups that are followed with something new and fun. So, it acknowledges the original without remaking it. Furthermore, it integrates many elements from the novel and original into the plot seamlessly. Achieving an overwhelming sense of dread from the very beginning of a horror film is quite difficult. That sense of unease is a combination of the atmosphere, setting, and ominous visual elements. Not five minutes into this movie, you are feeling that sense that something is definitely not right about this place. Yes, this is in part because many of us know what is to come; but even for new folks, the evil of this place can be felt all over your body. One of the creepiest scenes features the warped mirror image of an earlier cheerful moment, but it has been affected by the sour soil of the ancient burial ground.

While there isn’t much time to develop these characters, the writers were challenged with developing them enough for the story, and it works pretty well. The script isn’t quite as well-written as IT, but the margin of difference is not tremendously wide wither. As much of a fan of the original version as I am, there are areas that this version got better. For instance, the Zelda subplot–much more organically integrated into the main plot of Pet Sematary and even drives the main plot forward by revealing aspects to Rachel’s character. Two things for sure, these are two bad parents and Jud is an irresponsible neighbor. We don’t spend much time in the campus hospital where Luis Creed works, but we still get the big event of the passing of Pascow. Pascow’s character, whereas his harbinger of death or Jacob Marley (as so eloquently put by Mike Mike and Oscar) character isn’t as integral to the plot of this version, he looks more terrifying and doesn’t take a turn for the humorous. Of all the characters, I was most curious about John Lithgow’s performance as Jud. I was cautiously optimistic because Lithgow often has a way of delivering memorable performances, no matter how minor the role. His expression of Jud differs from that of Fred Gwynne’s but he still stays true to the character of Jud. And there are even moments that he channels Gwynne’s interpretation of the infamous neighbor. Just wish he had a Maine accent since he is still a local boy in this village (which is very close to Derry, according to a road sign). One of the best scenes in the movie take place as Lousi and Jud sit around a campfire, drinking, smoking and having an ill–fated heart-to-heart.

Contemporary remakes of earlier horror films often rely upon CGI versus practical effects. Cast that worry away because other than a few moments of CG, there are lots of fantastic practical effects from set design to the kills. There is such a high level of authenticity in everything the camera allows us to see, and even those moments that lie just off screen. Yes, there is still the inescapable supernatural factor in this story, but everything else is pretty well grounded in reality. From the parents building a fence to the proximity of the ancient burial ground, everything works to craft an authentic setting and characters. And yes, your Achilles tendon will still hurt in that famous kill. The directors truly seem to take into account that you cannot replace the way real light bounces off real objects and into the camera lens. Out two houses, the characters, and Church the cat exist in the time and space of each and every scene. With the exception a couple scenes that were not necessary or drawn out too far, they all work quite well to setup the following scene and point to the end of the film. There are moments that will cause you to look under beds, under stairs, and even analyze your pet more when you get home. For young audience members, watching this story for the first time, I imagine that they will be terrified just like I was when I saw the 89 one as a kid.

While I’ve read reviews claiming that this is the best Stephen Kind page to screen adaptation, I feel that other films have been more effective. Off the top of my head, I’d say that Misery is a better film both in terms of its cinematic critical value and faithfulness to the novel. Not to mention the Oscar-winning performance by Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes! No mistaking it, 2019’s Pet Sematary is a good horror movie and one that has a moderate level of rewatchability. Highly recommend for horror fans!

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“The Accountant” movie review

theaccountantA moderately good investment of your time. The Accountant is quite the interesting crime drama that shows that math can be exciting and lead to dangerous adventures. Directed by Gavin O’Connor and starring a phenomenal cast including Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, and John Lithgow, this film will keep your intrigue the entire runtime. What makes this film most interesting is the approach one might take when screening it. You can either approach it from a psychological/behavioral or a financial perspective. Although the plot is a little difficult to follow at times, the solid performances by the actors make the film one not to miss if you enjoy thrillers involving the government, covert ops, and savants. While some in the U.S. are shouting “make America great again,” Warner Bros. is shouting “make math sexy again.” From drop-dead shoot-out scenes to awkward comedic interactions, The Accountant will definitely have you thinking about it even after leaving the movie theatre. One the verge of being a non-linear film, the main plot does, at times, get lost in a few poorly integrated sub-plots. Definitely feels like one of those movies where important scenes that would have better supported or developed some of the sub-plots were left on the cutting room floor. The movie is not without its highlights. Affleck and Kendrick deliver outstanding performances that hold the film together. Whether it’s Affleck’s vacant expressions on his face or Kendrick’s WTF moments, the best part of the film is the talent on screen.

Talk about a double life. Accountant Christian Wolfe (Affleck) runs a small accounting agency in a nondescript strip plaza as a cover for his real work as an accountant and financial analyst for many organized crime groups. When the U.S. Treasury Dept begins to investigate him further, he takes on a seemingly normal client in an innovative robotics company. Forced to work with a beautiful and geeky in-house accountant (Kendrick), Wolfe is challenged with conducting a forensic analysis of the financial records in order to determine if there is embezzlement or money laundering occurring at the humanitarian robotics company. When he uncovers corruption, his life and the life of his counterpart is in jeopardy. Good thing Wolfe has an extensive background in martial arts and tactical armament.

Central to the plot of the film is the fact that our protagonist Christian Wolfe (Affleck) is on the autism spectrum. Although, he is on the high functioning end (often times diagnosed as Aspergers syndrome), Wolfe certainly displays classic signs of autism throughout the movie. More noticeable in his younger years, he still carries some of the psycho-social dysfunction into his adulthood. Wolfe’s father was a high-ranking official in the Army specializing in psychological warfare. He ran his home fairly, but with an iron fist. Both Wolfe and his brother were highly affected by the departure of their mother at Christmastime. The following years were hard on both of them. Coupled with–let’s be real here–daddy issues, Wolfe channels all his time and energy into military operations, martial arts, and psychological defenses. But, this intense training was forced on him by his father in order to combat the behavioral issues brought on by autism. After the death of his father, Wolfe decides to go from hero to anti-hero by making his living off organized crime but funneling his money into charitable causes. Although he may not have been racking up zeros in his bank account, he found other ways to be paid: valuable original artwork. The character of Christian Wolfe posts quite the dichotomy of attributes that create an interesting juxtaposition. One one hand, Wolfe is a ruthless criminal but not he other he is a humanitarian who appreciates fine art and loyalty.

There haven’t been many movies that fall into this sub-genre of drama. The Accountant is what you get when combining Batman with The Big Short. Because the film contains the classic elements and plot devices found in the aforementioned films, it has a little bit of an identity crisis. One of the flaws that besets this film is too much sub-plot. If the writer had spent more time developing the autism or concentrated on the daddy-issues sub-plot then perhaps the film would have flowed more smoothly. As it stands, the flashbacks introduce too much under-developed material into the high-concept plot. It’s almost as if the writer and director took a high-concept film and attempted to give it more emotional depth. The result is a fractured film that is interesting to watch and includes some dark comedy but suffers from coherent storytelling.

There aren’t too many choices at the cinema this weekend. If you are looking to laugh your ass off, then perhaps the Kevin Hart film will fit the bill; but if you are looking for an interesting film that highlights the potential and capabilities of those who are diagnosed as autistic and channel those abilities into a financial thriller, then The Accountant would be an excellent choice. Although there have been films featuring protagonists with physiological or psychological disabilities, this one is unique in that the main character harnesses the powers of the indirect affects of autism, and becomes an anti-hero who the audience roots for the whole time.