The attention of cat lovers has been captured twice this month in films that draw-out the docile and wild nature of the beast.
Goose, a ginger cat that served as a passenger in the shenanigans of Captain Marvel, won the hearts of many with his charming whimsy and adorable sense of cat-ness that purr-servered (just the one) in the face of adversity.
Goose’s sunny disposition couldn’t be more different than the sheer terror brought out by Church, a knot-ridden-scraggy-looking-cat whose scowl makes Grumpy Cat look like he’s smiling in 2019’s dead-upon-arrival Stephen King horror adaptation, Pet Sematary.
With only the passing roar of freight trucks speeding through a remote street to break the sense of stillness, a sense of unease is quickly established in Pet Sematary as we follow physician Louis (Jason Clarke) and his family’s relocation from busy Boston to rural Maine. With their new home comes the inheritance of a forest that hosts a mysterious ‘Pet Sematary’ whose aloofness catches the curiosity of its new owners.
It is not unusual within this pet cemetery for children to walk around in animal masks carrying dead pets, with the townsfolk putting this down as a local tradition. As the family become settled, a supernatural set of circumstances haunts the family, often manifesting from their deep-seated grief and their inability to process death at an emotional level.
From bleeding furniture to characters’ obsession turning them mad, Pet Sematary possesses all the elements that make it quintessentially King. It is because of the King-isms where the film stumbles, translating something as symbolic as the processing of grief into something thematic, with this for most of Pet Sematary taking form in a cat giving stink-eye and John Lithgow telling cautionary tales.
Strange side stories and tangents into dreamscapes where characters bond with the metaphysical deter from the larger story and sees the film stumble with providing something coherently structured. The acting is fine and largely driven by a strong lead performance from Clarke as a man whose emotional reticence to death causes his descent into insanity.
Set designs feel animated, like something from the Corpse Bride (2005) mixed with that polished sheen found in many Paramount films before it, that feels more manufactured than mystical and makes you wonder how many smoke machines directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer had working on overdrive.
Perhaps the biggest issue faced by Pet Sematary is with its unfortunate timed release against Jordan Peele’s’ Us; a film that invites its audience to dig further into its themes in a much more compelling manner that buries Pet Sematary deep in the ground.
Pet Sematary presents high concept storytelling with low stakes and serves as a cautionary tale for the It series (a phenomenon which has seen King back in the theatrical spotlight) when adapting King’s brand of psychological-horror into film.
Animal trainer Melissa Millett revealed that a total of five cats, all rescues, were cast to play Church, although ultimately one of them dropped out after getting scared on the set.