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Blu-ray Review: Pet Sematary (2019)
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2019 Pet Sematary blu-ray banner

Pet Sematary (2019)
Blu-ray Combo Pack | 4K Ultra HD | DVD | Digital
Directors: Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer
Screenwriter: Jeff Buhler
Cast: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence
Distributor: Paramount Home Video
Release Date: July 9, 2019

In this year’s Pet Sematary, the filmmakers have created a new adaptation of Stephen King‘s best-selling supernatural horror novel of the same name and, once again, the point that “sometimes dead is better” is driven home.

As with King’s book and the 1989 feature he adapted for director by Mary Lambert, the story centers on Dr. Louis Creed, who moves his family from a big city to small town. Hoping his new home in the woods will give his family a more peaceful existence, their lives become anything but after he discovers a mysterious burial ground on his new property.

In the new film, Jason Clarke (2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) stars as Louis, a well-meaning physician who just wants to give his family a better life and more quality time than he could as a big-city doctor. He relocates from Boston to Ludlow, Maine with his wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), their pre-teen daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence), toddler son Gage, and Church, Ellie’s mild-mannered long-haired cat. On moving-in day, they discover on their property a cemetery where the local children have long been burying their deceased pets. After Church meets a bloody demise by a speeding truck on the road that runs passed their house, Louis’s kindly elderly neighbor Jud (John Lithgow) shows the doctor what lies beyond the pet cemetery — an ancient burial ground with the power to raise the dead. Much to Louis’s horror, he soon learns that those who do return are not as they once were, but yet he’s still unable to accept that in some cases dead is better.

King’s original novel is a favorite of mine, and at the time of its release in the 1980s, my family had just adopted a Maine Coon cat similar in appearance to the one on the book’s cover, so the story struck me on a personal level. Then there was the 1989 film, where, aside from Church the cat (famously played by a British shorthair) and Fred Gwynne as Jud, the acting was pretty bad. It was typical 1980’s horror bad, but the story itself remained compelling. How far would you go to bring back someone you loved? And what would be the aftermath of that decision?

Upon hearing of this big-screen remake — which the filmmakers refer as a re-adaptation, since they do take some liberties story-wise and it’s not actually a shot-by-shot remake of the original film — I thought perhaps I’d just wait for the Blu-ray release to see it. I already was a fan of the book and while, yes, the acting on the 1989 film was subpar, I still enjoyed watching it (just like the rest of us horror fans in the ’80s did). So what could there be in this new movie that would entice me to see it in the theater?

Well, I’ll tell you what did it (I was there opening weekend even after just getting over being sick): It was the cat actors. I had read about how the five feline actors who played Church were all shelter rescues who were then trained for their big-screen role, and then I started following their Instagram accounts and saw how amazing they were, and I knew I just had to see the film right away.

In 2019’s Pet Sematary, Church, in all of his incarnations, steals the show. Oh, and the human actors are really good too, especially young Jeté Laurence, who blossoms in the role of Ellie. Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz are believable as parents who are about to break under not only real-life pressures, but a terrifying supernatural situation, while John Lithgow, who had some big shoes to fill from Gwynne’s 1989 performance, was perfect as Jud, the well-meaning, trustworthy neighbor who opens up a can of worms and perhaps maybe doesn’t have the greatest judgment (but, again, he’s well-meaning). While the story gets a big change up from the source material (which I won’t mention here because of spoilers), it does make more sense to have it that way for a big-screen adaptation.

When I saw the movie in the theater, I felt that the scenes at dusk and at night were so dark that I couldn’t distinguish what was going on. Thankfully, that issue is not present in the Blu-ray Edition (that was the first thing I checked!). The Blu-ray Combo pack comes with the film on three platforms — Blu-ray, DVD, and a digital copy — and contains bonus features, which I talk about in more detail here below.

For the bonus features, I was hoping there would be something lengthy dedicated solely to the cat actors, but sadly, there’s no featurette like that. But, the cat actors and their trainers do appear throughout the existing bonus features.

Pet Sematary cat Church 2019

[Leo as the “evil” Church in 2019’s Pet Sematary.]

I also want to point out that Leo, the cat actor who portrayed the “evil” Church, passed away in May several months after the film’s theatrical release. Per Leo’s trainer/owner Kirk Jarrett, who posted the news on the cat’s Instagram account, the 3-year-old feline died from “arterial thromboembolus (ATE), also known as “saddle thrombus,” a congenital heart defect that the Maine Coon breed can be prone to.” I was so sad to learn of this news, especially since it was Leo specifically who made me want to see the movie right away — Leo was the face of much of the film’s marketing material, including the poster and this Blu-ray’s cover. I had enjoyed seeing him and his animal actor siblings on their respective social media accounts training for their roles and having fun, knowing they were getting a great new life beyond their origins in a shelter. I thought for sure he’d go on to earn more on-screen acclaim, but with his one role and in his short life, he did managed to positively touch the lives of so many people. R.I.P. Leo, you will never be forgotten.

This updated Pet Sematary keeps the spirit of Stephen King’s supernatural horror novel and gives it a compelling twist, along with better acting (including the cats!), a chilling atmosphere, and more believability.

If you want both the 1989 original film and the 2019 film, there’s now also a Pet Sematary 2-Movie Collection available on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray.

Bonus Features

BONUS FEATURES ON 4K ULTRA HD COMBO, BLU-RAY COMBO & DIGITAL*

· Alternate Ending (9:18)
In a film like Pet Sematary, there’s no way for it to end up with a happily ever after scenario. But, depending on how you look at it, it could end at least in some satisfying way. This alternate ending is probably almost as good as the one that made the finally cut, although perhaps more horrifying. My reaction to it was: “Hmm… exactly how is this going to work?” I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t describe it, but I highly recommend watching this alternate ending.

· Deleted and Extended Scenes
There are 7 short scenes included here that were either deleted from the theatrical cut or are extended. These delve more into Rachel’s feelings about her deceased sister Zelda and the horrors she experienced as a child; Ellie’s apprehension about moving; Jud emphasizing that the trucks on the road are really dangerous; Jud talking about his own experiences with someone who “didn’t come back the same”; Rachel’s concern when she can’t get a hold of Louis while she’s at her parents; and zombie Church!

· Night Terrors – Family Haunting Visions: Louis, Rachel, Ellie
There are 3 “Night Terrors” featurettes that are about 1-3 minutes each that represent nightmares that Louis, Rachel, and Ellie have. These are pretty creepy and give us a tiny bit more insight into the fear within each of these three characters.

· The Tale of Timmy Baterman (3:06)
This three-minute featurette centers on the character Timmy Baterman, who we learn from Jud, in a dark cemetery setting, was a neighbor who had returned from the Vietnam War in a pinewood box only to be seen again two weeks later walking around. Jud tells the tale of what happened to Timmy and his family after that.

· Beyond the Deadfall (1:01: 44)
This hour-long featurette is split up into four “chapters.” This is where the real behind-the-scenes material lives, with interviews with the cast, crew, filmmakers on the film’s development and production and why they decided to make a major change from the book. Chapter One focuses on the theme of resurrection; Chapter Two on the burial ground location where they filmed and how they created and enhanced the sets; Chapter Three is where we get some insight on Church and the cat actors who play him, as well as the film’s tragic themes in general; and Chapter Four centers on the creepy aspects of the film and its climax.

Pet Sematary (2019) blu-ray box

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