pet sematary trailer breakdown

The new Pet Sematary trailer is here, and it’s fantastic. But more than that, it reveals the filmmakers have deviated in a major way from Stephen King‘s novel. And yet…the change looks like it works. If anything, it looks like it’s turned the film into something even more disturbing. In the Pet Sematary trailer breakdown below, I’ll highlight some of the major changes from King’s book, the 1989 film, and this new version. I suppose I should say “beware of spoilers”, but the spoilers are already given away in this new trailer. But just in case: beware of spoilers.

The trailer opens with Ellie Creed (Jeté Laurence) strolling peacefully in the woods. Ellie and her family – father Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), mother Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and toddler brother Gage (Hugo Lavoie and Lucas Lavoie) have recently moved to Ludlow, Maine. And behind their new house is an expanse of woods. As Ellie walks, we hear Rachel say: “In the woods today, Ellie discovered a charming little landmark.”

That landmark is, of course, the “pet sematary”, a burial ground for local pets – many of whom were killed on the stretch of road in front of the Creed household.

“It seems scary,” Louis tells his daughter, “but it’s not. It’s perfectly natural. Just like dying is natural.” In Stephen King’s novel, Ellie’s visit to the pet sematary is her first real brush with the concept of death. It immediately triggers fear within her – a fear that her beloved cat Church (short for Winston Churchill) will someday die. In King’s book, Rachel also has a severe phobia of death brought on by the death of her sister Zelda. It’s not yet clear if this version of Rachel has that same phobia or not, but in King’s book, Rachel’s death phobia results in some nasty fights between her and Louis – she doesn’t want to even think about death, let alone talk about it.

Enter Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), the Creed’s new neighbor who knows a thing or two about the pet sematary. “The whole town’s been using this place for generations,” Jud says. The relationship between Jud and Ellie is the first major departure from King’s novel to make note of. While Jud and Ellie are friendly in the book (and the 1989 film), the new film expands on that. When I visited the Pet Sematary set, John Lithgow said: “The first you see of Jud – he’s a gruff and forbidding, almost scary character. You don’t know who this character’s going to be – but his first scene is with a 9-year-old little girl [Ellie Creed], who is a very unusual 9-year-old girl, but she really warms to this character and he warms to her. And suddenly, you see this kind of forbidding guy, who for some reason can enchant a child. He just, he can really connect with a child – I mean really connect, talk to her about death, talk to her about what it’s like to be a little girl moving to a new town. He’s like Mr. Rogers. He’s got a strain of Mr. Rogers in him – the last thing you expect from this character.”

During his little spiel about the pet sematary, Jud also adds: “Folks make a kind of ritual out of it,” which gives way to the spooky kids in spooky animal masks that keep popping up in footage from this film. I’ll confess this is the one new element of the remake that I’m clueless about. I don’t know who these kids are – they’re certainly not in the book, or the 1989 film.

“I saw these carved in the trees up there,” Louis tells Jud later, referring to spirals cut in the trees. Spirals play a part in King’s book, in a kind of ancient rune sort of way – he points out how the pet sematary is laid out in the shape of a spiral, as is the burial ground beyond the pet sematary – a Native American burial ground which is only hinted at in this trailer. Here, though, the spirals seem to take on a new meaning. “They’re warnings,” Jud says. “Local tribes carved them before they fled. They feared that place…”

“There’s something up there,” Jud continues. “Something that dates way back. Those woods belong to something else…something that brings things back.” Here’s a big change from the 1989 film, but something that’s directly from King’s novel: the Wendigo, an evil spirt from folklore that has power over the woods, and the burial ground beyond. The Wendigo is mentioned frequently in King’s book, but didn’t make an appearance in the 1989 film. Here, we see both a drawing of the creature, and also a moment where Jud and Louis are in the woods and hear something big moving around.

Here comes Church, and he doesn’t look so hot. In the source material (and previous film), Church is hit by a truck, and killed. Jud then takes Louis (and Chruch’s corpse) up to the Micmac Burial Ground, located beyond the pet sematary. And sure enough, the next day, Church comes back to life. “That cat was dead!” Louis yells in the trailer, understandably alarmed. So far, this trailer has been sticking close to either the 1989 film, or King’s original novel. But things are about to change in a major way. Here is where we enter potential spoiler territory.

 

I’m not entirely sure this scene will play out exactly like this in the movie (there seems to be some creative editing going on), but the implication is clear. Ellie spots Church in the road, and seems ecstatic to see him. This implies that Ellie actually knew Church was dead to begin with – which is a major departure. In the novel, Church is killed while Ellie, Rachel and Gage are away in Chicago visiting Rachel’s parents. Only Louis is home, and he keeps the cat’s death and resurrection a secret. That’s a pretty big change, but the next instant is even bigger.

Anyone who has read the book, or seen the 1989 film, knows the story: Gage Creed is hit by a truck and killed. This action sets off a chain of events in which Louis decides to bury his son in the Micmac Burial Ground, and bring him back to life. But that’s not what happens here. Instead, it’s Ellie who gets hit by the truck. We see the truck coming, we see Louis scream, and then there’s a smash-cut to Louis at Ellie’s funeral, crying.

What’s the reasoning behind the major change? Speaking with EW, directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer explained that there’s really no good way to make a toddler come back from the dead and have it be, well, scary. Yes, they did it in the 1989 film, but as Widmyer points out: “Much of how they shot the first [movie] was a doll…It’s creepy and it’s effective. But we’ve now seen Child’s Play and we’ve seen the little kid trying to kill, and it’s effective when done right, but …”

There’s a lot to unpack here. I’m sure a few purists will not care for this at all. But I count myself as a Stephen King purist, and I have to say: I’m all-in on this. For one thing, it’s going to add a whole new dimension to the story. As mentioned above, Jud and Ellie have a stronger relationship in this movie, which will make her death all the more harrowing. For another, having an older child actor be the one who comes back from the dead enables the film to do a bit more without resorting to dolls, or puppets, or terrible CGI.

Louis stumbles through the graveyard, shovel in hand, clearly ready to dig up Ellie. “I know what you’re thinking of doing,” Jud’s voice warns, “but they don’t come back the same.”

One of my favorite shots from the trailer: Louis, mourning, unaware that the resurrected Ellie is sneaking up behind him. I’m a little surprised that the producers and filmmakers decided to go for broke and reveal all this in the trailer, but I’m also not complaining.

Here comes yet another major change. In the novel, and the ’89 movie, Rachel is completely unaware of the whole “resurrection” idea. Louis once again bundles her off to Chicago so he can go about his plan. But this new movie is making Rachel a more active participant in the proceedings, rather than keeping her in the margins. Here, she’s aware that her child has come back from the dead. She asks Louis what’s going on, to which Louis replies: “Hug your daughter.” Talk about creepy. Again: I love this. I love that they’re adding these new details, which only increase the psychological dread.

“I should have never shown you that place,” Jud says. Yeah, no kidding Jud. This gives way to those creepy mask kids again, and seriously – what is their deal?

Here’s our first good glimpse at Victor Pascow (Obssa Ahmed). In King’s book, the character dies in Louis’ care, only to visit him as a ghost later that night and warn him not to go beyond the pet sematary. The 1989 film expands his role a bit, making him somewhat of a comic relief figure who keeps trying to help the Creed family avoid certain doom. Just a guess, but I’m thinking this new version will avoid that comic relief idea.

Rachel decides to take a nap while her zombie daughter is in the house, which, as you can see here, isn’t the best idea.

And here is Zelda, Rachel’s dead sister who still haunts her memories. Zelda suffered, and died from, spinal meningitis, and her appearance in the 1989 film still has the power to give people the creeps. For this new film, the filmmakers are taking a somewhat different approach. “[Zelda is] an 11- or 10-year-old girl with a debilitating disease in bed,” Widmyer said during my set visit. “So if you look at the psychology of the Zelda situation – it’s a family that was dealing with a horrible situation that had a daughter that they couldn’t fix, that was wasting away up in their bedroom, and they had a younger daughter [Rachel] who was in charge of basically like going in and taking care of her and being there as she disintegrated. That in itself is pretty horrific.”

Finally: one of the most iconic moments from the 1989 movie has made it into the 2019 film as well. This isn’t in King’s book, but in the ’89 film, the resurrected Gage goes after Jud, and slices his Achilles Tendon. Here, of course, it’s Ellie (wearing one of those damn masks) doing the cutting – which makes things extra unsettling when remember that Jud and Ellie start out the film as friends. I guess the friendship is over.

Pet Sematary opens April 5, 2019.

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