Trailer Breakdown: “Pet Sematary” (2019)

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“Pet Sematary” is one of my favorite Stephen King movies having been one of the first I saw when I was a kid (my first was “Cat’s Eye”). I remember the original AND the sequel both terrifying me to near death especially thanks to its macabre subject matter and its involving the death of animals. With Stephen King adaptations in the middle of a renaissance of sorts thanks in no small part to the success of “It” I’m not shocked that a remake is on the way. We’ve had numerous sneak peaks released this week including a poster and photos but we also got the first trailer for the film today which showcases what we can expect from the project. Considering I had already planned on releasing a Stephen King related top-10 tomorrow it’s only fitting that I also take a look at the trailer and see what this new interpretation of the novel might hold. This is my breakdown of the first trailer for 2019’s “Pet Sematary”. Want more Stephen King? Look for my picks for the Top 10 Stephen King Horror Movies tomorrow afternoon. ALSO because I will be comparing this remake to the original movie there will be SPOILERS in this breakdown so if you haven’t seen the first film or are unfamiliar with the story you have been warned.

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The trailer starts off simple enough. It shows a family moving into the country. This is the Creed family, played by Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence and Hugo and Lucas Lavoie. It’s the same family from the original but with one obvious change. In the first movie the family is from Chicago, but in this film the trailer bluntly tells us they are instead moving from Boston. Like the original the patriarch Louis Creed (played by Clarke) is a doctor although while the first movie states that the move is due to a new job at the University of Maine the trailer doesn’t divulge the purpose of their move. We get our first jump scare of the trailer as a large truck drives by. This simple moment is actually important because in the original film both Church the cat and Gage the son are killed by vehicles driving by on the adjacent highway leading to the use of the titular cemetery so the trailer immediately shows us that while the family has a nice, quiet new home the roadway nearby is a hazard. Even the parents seem to feel on edge about seeing such a big vehicle, one they clearly didn’t hear beforehand, pass by on a seemingly deserted back country road.

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The trailer then starts to incorporate some neat creepy music into the background to put the viewers on edge. After a few establishing shots to get us accustomed to the movie’s forest backdrop Jon Lithgow starts narrating about how he and his friends used to dare each other to go into the woods at night and how they “knew the power of that place”. A couple things here. First Lithgow is clearly playing Jud Crandall who plays in integral role in defining the mythos of the cemetery in the first movie as well and, spoiler alert, doesn’t make it through the film. Lithgow is a great actor and honestly I’m excited to see him in this role.

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Second we see kids making their way through the forest in creepy animal-based masks and using an ominous drum and  a cross while transporting something in a wheelbarrow. One of them is carrying a shovel as well. While we don’t know whether or not this is in the present day or some sort of flashback exploring the history of the cemetery it appears these children are performing some kind of ritual, likely a burial for a lost pet. Considering that the sign for the cemetery, and as a result the name of the movie as well, is spelled wrong because it was written by children it would be safe to assume they are the only ones who really know about it which is why knowledge of this burial ground is limited. This may even be the first shots of the film used to introduce us to the cemetery before the main story begins.

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One of the coolest shots in the trailing sees Lithgow’s character at the actual graveyard and this to me is the money shot. The cemetery looks much more unsettling than the one in the original film. It really looks like a makeshift area for burial and the added details of the piled up sticks and possible bones combined with the atmosphere in general sell it all in this one image. It’s also notable that despite having knowledge of the cemetery Lithgow’s character looks almost shocked. We know he is aware of the cemetery and in the original movie his character leads Louis Creed to the cemetery to resurect Church. Coudl this be a “what have I done moment”? implying that while he had heard about it as a kid and took it seriously he had possibly never actually been there before. Either way it appears Lithgow’s character is concerned knowing what the cemetery can do.

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One of the most important shots is this one here of a cat. We don’t know what cat this is but the trailer implies it’s Church, the cat from the first film and the Creed’s family pet. We don’t see them with a cat in the early shots of the movie but later on this same cat is shown in their house. More on that later. In the first film Church is killed by a vehicle and Louis tries to revive him to spare his wife the pain which introduces him to the power of the cemetery. While the first movie used some special effects, including glowing eyes, to drive home Church’s newly acquired evil personality this cat just LOOKS creepy without the need for additional details. I mean look at those eyes. They pierce right into your soul. The unkempt look of the feline also plays into the side effect of the cemetery that the reincarnated don’t look the same, usually looking barely alive. Assuming this really is Church, or this film’s version of Church whatever the name may be, and not just some random animal I think it’s a great improvement.

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The next few shots show some elements from the original film brought on for the new project. We see Jason Clarke’s Louis Creed wake up with dirt on his feet which is a rehash of the same moment from the first film where Louis believes he dreamt his first trip to the cemetery in the night. Subtle things like this are evidence that the new “Pet Sematary” will likely follow the same plot threads even if reimagined the story for a new audience. We also see Louis at the dinner table in a daze sitting with his family which is probably again part of the aftermath of his “dream”. It appears we also hear Louis yell Gage’s name as a truck drives over the camera obviously pointing to the moment when Gage is slated to die. Further evidence of this is a shot of Louis burying something in the cemetery. It could be Gage, it could be Church we don’t know. We also see Church hissing at his owners which is part of the side effects of the cemetery as those brought back to life, human or animal, are never the same.

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Possibly the most interesting aspect of this trailer is the addition of a mysterious African American character who was not in the first movie. We see him, seemingly resurrected, on Louis Creed’s operating table and later we see the shot above where he seems to be stalking the family in their home. The trailer doesn’t give a great look at him but this looks to me like it could be Obssa Ahmed who is slated to play Victor Pascow, a man who dies in an accident and leads Louis to the cemetery in a dream. However in the original movie and in the book his part is limited to that role but if he’s going to haunt the family obviously his role could be bigger in this film. However this coudl also be the moment in the film where Pascow appears to Ellie to inform her of her husband’s plan to bring Gage back to life through the cemetery. The tricky thing here is that Ellie appears to be holding Gage in her arms while Pascow is there so why is he there?

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We get a shot of a funeral, likely Gage’s, as well as scattered moments of terror and suspense thrown in to obviously warm us up for the chaos slated to litter this remake. I noticed that even just this first look trailer feels more on edge and intense than the original film does. While the first “Pet Sematary” is a delightfully uncomfortable thriller of a horror flick this trailer provides a very different vibe for me. It just feels like a more polished horror offerings right off the bat than its predecessor so while it may not explore a lot of new ideas when compared to the original the new version has the potential to be more focused and frightening if it lives up to its potential.

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The last thirty seconds is composed of a few scattered shots including the shot above of a scalpel which is the weapon of choice for Gage after he is resurrected from the cemetery. However if you look at the hands they look like they could be Pacow’s hands although that could simply just be the dark lighting of that scene. They also look more like adult hands. It’s hard to tell which intrigues me. Is Pascow a new villain in this version? We also see Lithgow’s Jud Crandall creeping through what we can assume is his home which is likely part of his final moments alive as in the original film Gage kills him with the scalpel. We even see a shot where he’s backing away from something human coming out of a space in his wall, most likely Gage but again we don’t get a good look at the assailant so if Pascow is going to play a bigger part here maybe he’s the one who goes after Jud.

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The trailer ends with a shot of the makeshift Pet Sematary sign and a little girl wondering into it in the middle of the day closing the trailer not with a title card, but with an actual look at the cemetery that is the focus of the entire film. Overall what I can gather from this first look at the remake is that it will pretty much rehash what we saw from the original movie however it looks a lot darker and more atmospheric than the previous product and hints at some narrative changes that could give it it’s own identity. I think it will be fun to see “Pet Sematary” in a new light and it does feel like a story that can benefit from a modernization. There’s not a lot we can tell from this trailer as to what might set this film apart. For now I’m cautiously intrigued by what I’m seeing so far. We’ll see what the final product is like when the film releases to theaters in April.

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