Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his wife, Rachel (Amy Seimetz), relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children (Jete Laurence and Hugo / Lucas Lavoie). The couple soon discovers a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home. When tragedy strikes, Louis turns to his neighbour Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), setting off a perilous chain reaction that unleashes an unspeakable evil with horrific consequences.
'Pet Sematary' is one of Stephen King's most well-known works, and it's up there as his most grim and disturbing. It's not just in the subject matter or the actual concept of what the characters partake in, but given the nature of what it's talking about - grief and guilt - it makes for something truly oppressive. Compared to something like 'It' or even 'The Shining', 'Pet Sematary' has none of the glee or the shock value inherent in them. It's far more grisly than either of these, but also in how it approaches the horror.
The usual line with horrors is that the best ones are the ones you don't want to see turn into horror, and this is really what 'Pet Sematary' catches on. There's a real sense of warmth between the family of actors, and John Lithgow's craggy next-door neighbour, so that when the Significant Incident occurs at the halfway point, the rapid disintegration is all the more chilling. Sure, it might be wrapped up in gory moments and jump-shocks, but the underlying themes of how grief and guilt can utterly destroy once happy people still come through.
Jason Clarke's performance is convincing throughout, as is Amy Seimetz who is able to convey anguish and guilt in such a chilling, present way. John Lithgow, while he may be more of a plot-driving device than a real character, still performs reliably well. The real standout, however, is Jete Laurence as the angelic daughter, Ellie. It takes a lot of skill to shift between two completely different states of being, especially in so young an actor, but she carries it off well and convincingly so - only just scraping the line of ridiculousness in parts.
It's true; there are significant changes from the book and purists to King's work will likely find fault with them. However, the question that so often plagues any adaptation - not just Stephen King's - is how to transplant something that works on a page to something that works on a screen. Adhering to the source material is important, sure, but if it can't be readily moulded and there's another route to take with it, why not? Jeff Buhler's script and Matt Greenberg's screen story funnels the themes of 'Pet Sematary' into a more distilled, sleeker offering with the directing duo, Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, keeping the horror and tension up throughout.
As King adaptations go and especially ones that have already been mounted, 'Pet Sematary' is up there with the recent reimagining of 'It' as an example of how to do it right. The core elements are there, but it distinguishes itself from with necessary deletions and additions that service the story. It may suffer from some predictability - even if it is changing large parts of the source material - but there's a lot to admire in 'Pet Sematary', all of it making for a gruesomely entertaining horror.