“Sometimes dead is better” is a creepy, haunting, and perfect tagline for a horror movie. It’s even better when taken and thought about in the context of the entire film.
Pet Sematary, as you can probably guess based on the title, is all about death. From the very beginning, young Ellie is asking her parents what happens to humans and animals when they die. Where do their bodies go? Do their spirits live on? Why do different people see it different ways? These are questions that everyone starts to think about at some point in their life, and this film attempts to address them.
The film succeeds in part in addressing some of this. Its one main, coherent conclusion is that when someone we love dies, we need to accept it. Grief is natural, and so is wishing that person or pet was still with us. But death is meant to be the end for that living being (at least in this world – it doesn’t give a conclusive thesis on any sort of spiritual afterlife; though, it isn’t entirely interested in doing so). This movie goes to some dark places to make its point. People make impossible decisions because they are thrust into circumstances that are totally devastating. The story is definitely a cautionary tale.
But while the themes are apparent and well thought-out, the rest of the film is almost the total opposite. This plot introduces so many interesting and intriguing ideas, but almost none of them are explored. The parts that seemed most interesting – to me, at least – are the ones that are pushed to the side so that the bare minimum of the plot can move forward.
We find out that when a dead cat is buried in this Pet Sematary (which is spelled incorrectly because kids are bad at spelling, but we’ll get to that), it comes back, but not the same as it was. But that’s about all we know. There is some mystical power that affects the land and the house that this family lives in, but any explanation of it is simply waved off curtly in one scene. And as for the origin of the pet sematary itself, we find out that the kids of this town go and bury their pets their when they die, but the reasons and explanation are only hinted at, implied, or flat out ignored.
This film is full of scares, discomfort, and some downright disturbing content, as well as some excellent themes to explore. Unfortunately, its script was too weak to be able to call it a good film over all. It ends up feeling like the original Stephen King novel was buried in the Pet Sematary and came back as this movie – less than, lacking, and just a shadow of what it once was.