pet sematary sxsw review

Between his career as a producer and his time as a Warner Brothers executive, Lorenzo Di Bonaventura has been responsible for many films that movie lovers can describe as formative. And now it’s dawned on him too, especially as he reads 20th anniversary articles about The Matrix this week. “It’s been interesting to read 20th anniversary of Matrix [articles] because it makes me all of a sudden go, ‘Jesus,that was a long time ago, wasn’t it?’” Di Bonaventura told /Film. “Wow, time has passed very fast. Obviously I’m super proud of that movie so it’s nice to read about it again.”

This week, di Bonaventura’s adaptation of Pet Sematary opens in theaters after premiering at SXSW to rave reviews, including our own and Stephen King’s. Even before SXSW, the trailer revealed a big change in this adaptation. Instead of Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel Creed’s (Amy Seimetz) youngest child Gage dying, it’s Ellie (Jete Lawrence). Since neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) helped Louis resurrect Ellie’s cat Church in the Micmac burial ground behind the “Pet Sematary,” Louis still goes down a dark path.

Di Bonaventura spoke with /Film by phone this week about the adaption of Pet Sematary, from directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch and writers Matt Greenberg and Jeff Buhler. With many franchises under his banner, di Bonaventura also answered questions about McClane, Snake Eyes and sequels to Transformers and The Meg, before finally revisiting The Matrix. Pet Sematary opens Friday, April 5.

I’m glad that you revealed the big change in one of the trailers so I had time to make peace with it.

That was the strategy. We knew fans like yourself would have, not necessarily a negative reaction. We just knew it was going to be a reaction. Give you some time to adjust to that.

And now that I’ve seen the movie it makes perfect sense, because this one is as much Ellie’s story as it is Louis’, isn’t it?

Absolutely. I’m sure you know the book. Any of the conversations about life and death between the parents of children are really with Ellie because obviously she’s the only one who can have that conversation.

Was it important to also give Rachel more of a direct reason to fear that talk, that she actually felt direct guilt and responsibility for Zelda’s death?

Yeah, one of the things we were trying to figure out was how to explain Zelda without taking a major detour in time and direction. That conversation allowed us to use Zelda in, I’ll say, a simple manner. So that turned around and got us really good quick ground for that. So I think part of the trick in this was that we’re trying to give everybody in their story as much as we could. I think that obviously was a big deal for us.

You don’t come out and say athetism, but was it natural to explore that a doctor would have some resistance to Rachel’s interpretation of the afterlife?

Absolutely. What we saw was that a doctor is a man of science. So for him, he has a very scientific, you could almost say cold perception of what it is. That’s why they’re so polar opposite. Rachel’s had such a visceral reaction from the tragedy that she went through as a child. For me, what became very personal was my first wife and I had a child. I was running Warner Brothers at the time. My assistant came in, I was in a meeting, and said, “There’s an emergency.” So I run back into my office and I get on the phone. My wife says, “Henry died” who was my son’s gerbil. And I said, “You’re kidding me that this is an emergency, right?” And she goes, “No, no, no, what do we do? Do we tell him he ran away or do we tell him he died?” My knee jerk reaction was tell him he ran away. Her knee jerk reaction was, “No, no, no, they need to know the process.” I eventually agreed with her but my knee jerk reaction was to protect your child from that, from reality. So when that scene came up in our script, it was so real life for me.

It is a very relevant conversation all parents are going to have to face. Does it get extra complicated when you’re dealing with a story where they actually have a third option?

Yeah, I know, exactly right. What’s interesting is you could look at that third option in a way, you can look at it from a simplistic level of all right, would you do anything you could to save your child? But there’s another way to look at it. Aren’t you a bad parent if you don’t try in every way to save your child? Which is sort of turning it on its side. That’s an interesting thing. That’s what was one of the fun things about this movie actually was getting into deep, deep questions.

That’s why the older I get, the more powerful Pet Sematary becomes.

I agree with that. For me, having a child, I had read it long before I had children. So I had one relationship to the book. Then I had children and I had a completely different relationship with the book. As I was thinking about it also, I was thinking about our society. Our society does everything it can to push death to a backseat. We hide it, sweep it under the rug as much as we can. What’s so fascinating about this is every generation probably has a different relationship with death. My parents had a different relationship. Their parents were kind of used to death, whether it was war or death by childbirth. It was a much more frequent occurrence. It was one of the things that got me very excited about the movie because each time you deal with death, it’s a different thing. It’s a different thing for everybody. I think it’s one of the reasons why at the end of the day, taking on the subject matter was interesting to me.

Church sort of becomes the instrument of Ellie’s death. Is there an interpretation where Church did that on purpose to punish Louis?

We think so. We definitely think so. There’s no doubt that Church in his form is malicious. Also, another way of looking at Church is saying all right, if this malevolence, whatever it is up in the burial ground, why wouldn’t that malevolence? One of the things we decided to do is we put Church in so many scenes to drive that point home.

Is the truck driver texting because that’s what causes so many accidents now?

Exactly.

Were the neighborhood kids with the masks ever going to be even bigger characters?

No. One of the tricky things is there’s so much ground to cover, we never really imagined that that was going to be it. We felt like ritualizing it was a benefit to setting up the mystique and the weirdness of that world. That was really its primary purpose. Plus, we loved the imagery.

I bet we’ll see a lot of those masks at Halloween.

[LAUGHS] I think you’re right. I hadn’t thought about that.

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