Jason Clarke, what happened man? I thought we were cool. I loved your work in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes but since then, you just keep letting me down. Winchester? Chappaquiddick? Serenity? Everest? The worst Terminator movie? What’s up man? What are you doing? You’re better than this. It’s clear your agent is a demon from the lower realms. Otherwise, I cannot explain the repeated terrible decisions that have culminated in Pet Cemetery. (Yes, I know the movie misspells ‘Cemetery’ with intent and I don’t care.)
Pet Cemetery is an adaptation of a rather weak Stephen King story about, wait for it, you won’t believe it when I tell you, a family in Maine. I know right? A Stephen King movie in Maine, that almost always happens in his stories. This family is made up of Louis (Clarke), a doctor, his stay at home wife and mother of his children, Rachel (Amy Siemetz), daughter Ellie (Jete Lawrence) and a 2 year old son, Gage (Hugo Lavoie).
This particular family in Maine has made the mistake of hiring the most sadistic realtor in history. How else to explain selling the family a cottage so close to a busy, semi-truck heavy, highway that its a hazard to be standing near, let alone attempting to cross. And in the backyard? Oh just a gate that leads to the realm of the dead and a creepy pet cemetery where local kids go to bury their pets while inexplicably wearing the kinds of Halloween masks that would give themselves nightmares for days. Seriously, are these kids supposed to be in a cult? No kid does this isn’t desperately mentally ill.
So, death highway on one side and the gate between the living and the dead on the other: let’s watch what happens next. John Lithgow, so far beneath his dignity and talent he appears to be attempting to cry for help using the crinkling wrinkles of his bad makeup job as some kind of funky visual code. Lithgow is the idiot who informs his new neighbor about the hell’s gate behind his home after hearing that Ellie’s cat, Church has been hit on the death highway.
He does this despite being fully aware of the curse on the hell’s gate. He had a dog as a kid and discovered the terrible power of the woods to bring back the dead in physical form but not in a recognizably happy or emotionally well adjusted form. They don’t come back the same and that’s certainly the case with the once cuddly Church, who returns in a deeply dyspeptic mood. He’s mean and has claws at the ready for everyone in the family.
Despite this glaring evidence of awfulness, Louis the utter dimwit, chooses not to put Church back into the actual realm of the dead with humane syringe full of sleepy juice. Nope, he lets the cat go in the woods only to see it return and start the third act. I won’t spoil anything here, there are variations from both the book and the 1989 version of Pet Cemetery that I will allow misguided souls who wish to suffer this movie to discover for themselves.
I will say that not a single thing about the third act is nearly as scary as this overly insistent score claims it is. The twists and turns of the third act of Pet Cemetery are a procession of mediocre jump scares, poor decision making at the necessity of an idiot plot and unexplained weirdness. Mom has a plot in the movie that makes so little sense in the movie that I want to write a sonnet on just how ill-considered this subplot is. It’s really a wonder to watch the filmmakers introduce this plot and bail on giving it any kind of rationale.
If there is one thing in Pet Cemetery that is remotely effective, it’s the one thing that is all about me and nothing to do with how the movie works. I have a traumatic fear of seeing an Achilles Tendon sliced. It’s a fear that is entirely irrational and all my own. It started in childhood, perhaps with the original Pet Cemetery, and it has been an all consuming, gut-wrenching, personal nightmare ever since. I give the filmmakers here zero credit for tapping that particular well in my mind. They gave away this particular scare in the trailer which gave me ample time to leave the theater until the moment passed.
Pet Cemetery is a terrible, borderline unwatchable mediocrity. Honestly, I wish Pet Cemetery were a more conventionally bad movie. Instead, Pet Cemetery is bad in the least interesting ways. The acting is boring, the scares are bland, the direction is uninteresting. It’s all got an air of professional polish but nothing stands out as being very good. It’s bad but not in a bold or original way, it doesn’t take any chances.
I hate a number of movies for a number of reasons but I respect bad movies that take big bold swings and misses. That’s interesting, being way off the mark, really missing the boat takes vision and care. The Room is that kind of movie. A visionary bad movie with a singular perspective that happens to be the exact wrong singular perspective. To a lesser extent, Suicide Squad is an example of interesting bad. They had a terrible idea how to make that movie and they stuck to their guns and failed in a spectacular fashion that I can’t help but respect a little.
No one who made Pet Cemetery appears to care about what they are doing. There is a distinct workman-like approach to Pet Cemetery, as if everyone were working hard toward building something they had no personal investment in. They could all be building different parts of a couch to be assembled and delivered as much care and personal involvement. It would be a sturdy couch but lumpy and ill-suited to all other decor.
That’s a wordy, snarky, jerky, way of saying Pet Cemetery is bad and don’t waste your money on it. As for Jason Clarke, whom I addressed at the start of this review: come back to us man. It’s not too late. I still think you can act. I still see that awesome performance in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes somewhere behind those mostly dead eyes. It’s not too late man, you can pull out the skid. I see you’re moving to television, that’s a really good first step.