I was walking home the other night and saw a cat in an alley that reminded me so much of my dear departed Figgy. It was so dark that I had to use the flashlight on my phone which allowed me to barely make out her form playfully rolling about on the cement in a come-hither way. I called to her but she wouldn’t budge and I couldn’t reach her myself because of a locked gate. I knew the gate on the other side of the block was open so I ran home, got some food and crept through the labyrinth of South Philly back yards to reach the cat only to find that she had disappeared. Then, as if cued by my disappointment, it started to rain. Of course, this cat wasn’t Figgy but why did she look and act so much like her and wait a minute, it was so dark, I’m not one hundred percent sure I didn’t hallucinate the whole thing. I’ve gone back to look for her several times and I’m leaving cat food in the back yard by the gate and yet I also know that what I’m really looking for I’ll never find again. Figgy still seems just slightly out of my view at all times. I’ve mistaken a boot on the floor for her for a fraction of a second and for a flash I saw her running down the street but nope, it was a black bag blowing in the wind. I feel haunted.
In my state, I should have been ripe for the picking as far as the retelling of STEPHEN KING’S PET SEMATARY goes. Alas, I wish could say I connected with it better than I ultimately did. It spoke to me for sure, and it easily made me weepy but something about it ended up feeling detached from the deep well of guilt and grief ingrained in KING’s tale. Jason Clarke is impeccable as Louis Creed so I’m certainly not blaming him. I pretty much hung on his every word and when he explains how death is a natural part of life to his dubious daughter Ellie (JETE LAURENCE), I was all ears wanting a fatherly figure to put my worries to rest as well. The most potent parts of KING’s take on THE MONKEY’S PAW are nearly impossible to muddle because they are in the very bones of the story itself and this movie does right by those themes for the most part. There are more than a few alterations here and there, all of which I found at least interesting. The direction and editing are clever too, I wouldn’t say the filmmakers (Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Wydmyer, the folks behind 2014’s impressive STARRY EYES) have anything to be embarrassed by here; it’s all reasonably sufficient and respectfully done. Yet it always feels like a product rather than a soulful exploration. It’s missing madness and mojo. It’s too restrained and in my opinion, not weird enough.
Frankly, I don’t get how you drop a ball like Zelda. I can understand the desire to streamline the story a bit (although discarding the suicidal neighbor and the disapproving in-laws evaporates a great deal of the depressive tone) but declawing Zelda and almost refusing to look at her makes no sense to me. Anyone who has seen MARY LAMBERT’s artful take on the material will remember Zelda (if they don’t have her image burned into the inside of their retinas forever). Rachel Creed’s sickly sister embodies the torturous guilt that frequently accompanies grief perhaps better than any other horror character I can think of. She’s still very much present in this new telling, but she’s sidelined and out of focus and avoided in a way that’s almost cowardly. It’s as if her unseemliness was considered too gauche for this production and so she’s grounded and gifted a poorly executed dumbwaiter scare and let go. Maybe I just love Zelda too much. This is possible. I have a hard time letting things go.
I truly thought I was in the exact right mind space to appreciate every iota of PET SEMATARY but maybe the exact opposite was true. I will say I have no complaints about the cat(s) who portrayed Church and really how many horror films do you get that feature a feline character front and center? I just wish that they took it all a bit further, even the cemetery itself is lackluster and missing the shabby-chic, found object wonder of the previous telling (one positive thing this movie did do for me is that it made me appreciate LAMBERT’s trippy IVAN ALBRIGHT-
Fittingly, PET SEMATARY may be back from the dead but this time it comes across like a lesser, blank-eyed facsimile. Maybe I was asking too much, maybe I was expecting this movie to replace the irreplaceable (not unlike that poor unreachable stray in the alley). To me, due to its subject matter, any version of KING”s PET SEMATARY is going to be fundamentally more interesting than the average studio movie coming down the pike but I’m pretty sure that the next time I want to revisit this painful tale, I’ll be seeking out the still vibrant earlier incarnation. Well-groomed as it is, this new take lacks bite.