Pet Sematary Directors Interview

When it came time to bring Stephen King‘s Pet Sematary to the big screen again, directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch had two choices. They could’ve gone for something traditional, and in line with the previous 1989 film. Or they could take an entirely new approach to material most people know so well. They went with the latter – a risky decision that paid off in a big way. In the hands of Widmyer and Kölsch, the new Pet Sematary is both true to the spirit of King’s book, while also bringing fresh and exciting new material to the tale.

I had a chance to speak with the directors following the Pet Sematary premiere at SXSW. Watch our Pet Sematary directors interview below.

Pet Sematary Directors Interview

One of the several topics that arose during this interview involved marketing. By now, you likely know the new Pet Sematary makes a rather drastic change to King’s book. In the book, and the 1989 film, the Creed family moves to a rural town. Behind their house is a cursed burial ground that has the power to raise the dead. First, the Creed patriarch, Dr. Louis Creed, uses the burial ground to resurrect the family’s dead cat. Later, the Creed’s youngest child – toddler Gage – is killed in a terrible accident. Even though he knows the consequences could be dire, Louis decides to bury his dead son in the burial ground as well. Gage returns, but he’s not the sweet, innocent child he was before his death.

Most of that set-up is the same in the new Pet Sematary, but instead of killing off Gage, the new film kills Gage’s older sister, Ellie, played by Jeté Laurence. This change is surprising, but even more surprising is the fact that the marketing for Pet Sematary freely gave this big twist away. The teaser trailer for the movie kept it secret, but by the time the full trailer arrived, Ellie’s death was out in the open. I asked Widmyer and Kölsch why the decision was made to give away the twist in trailers.

“I’ll be honest,” said Dennis Widmyer, “we were like, ‘We don’t know if we would do that.’ And marketing’s whole thing was, look, people are going to be shocked by it when they see the movie, and that can be a good thing or a bad thing. And we found with some of our early test screenings that when people were blindsided, they were kind of put-off by it.”

However, once the second trailer revealed the change, Widmyer says something weird happened: the test screening scores went up. “I think it was just about getting it out of the way.”

Speaking of Ellie, I wondered how the filmmakers got such a memorable, and scary performance out of young actress Jeté Laurence, who goes to some very dark places in the third act of the film. “We were just so lucky [to get the cast we wanted],” said Kevin Kölsch. “The one [difficult] thing was finding [Ellie]. And Jeté, she was just somebody who auditioned for us. And I don’t know how she does it – it’s not us directing her. It’s her. She plays this little girl role, because she is just a little girl. And then she asks for a minute, goes off in a corner, and she comes back, and she’s this evil Ellie. I don’t know what she’s channeling over there.”

Pet Sematary is notorious for its bleak subject matter, and Widmyer and Kölsch may have defied the odds and made a film that’s even bleaker than the book. I couldn’t help but wonder if at some point during the production, Paramount asked the filmmakers to pull things back. According to the directors, Paramount was supportive, and understood that all the darkness was necessary. “There was never going to be a happy ending, because that’s against the DNA of this book,” said Widmyer .”And fundamentally, you have to respect the essence of the book. You can’t mess with that.”

Pet Sematary opens April 5, 2019.

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