Pet Sematary: Bloodlines movie artwork

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines (Movie Review)

By and large, Horror prequels do not have the best track record. While there are a few that end up being worthy entries into their respective stories, more often than not they end up answering questions that do not need to be, and not expanding the lore of a universe in a meaningful way. So, the question is how does the latest Pet Sematary prequel Pet Sematary: Bloodlines fair? 

Premiering on Paramount+ October 6, 2023, it should be known at Pet Sematary: Bloodlines serves as a prequel to the 2019 remake, not the original 1989 film. Directed and co-written by Lindsey Anderson Beer, the plot focuses on a young Jud Crandall, famously played by the late Fred Gwynne in the original film, and the backstory of how he discovers the secret of the Miꞌkmaq burial ground in his hometown of Ludlow, Maine. In 1969, Jud is a young man with the same dream every young person from rural America has – to get out of his hometown and leave it behind. His destiny, as we know, is much darker. In the original story, Jud tells that story’s protagonist, Louis Creed, about an incident in Ludlow decades past, when a man named Bill Baterman (David Duchovny: The X-Files series, Californiacation series) buried his son in the cemetery, who then returned as a maddened zombie to wreak havoc on the town. This is where the film starts, and it’s perhaps understandable why the plot doesn’t focus on the lead up to it – because that might skirt too close to telling the same story as the original.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines photo
L-R Henry Thomas as Dan and Jackson White as Jud Crandall in Pet Sematary, streaming on Paramount+, 2023.

There are several things about this film that miss the mark, especially for fans of Stephen King’s work. One of them is Jud himself, who is played by Jackson White (Mrs. Fletcher series, Ambulance 2023), and is simply boring on screen. Jud served as the trope of the old man who gives exposition and warning to the main characters, while here, we get a borderline lifeless character that has none of the traits or even mannerisms of the original character. His characterization is simply that of the audience, learning the back story as we do. It is a poor choice of direction for a film where he is the lead, turning him into a vessel to carry any idea the writers want in there, regardless if it fits or is good for the story.

Additionally, A lot of the soul-wrenching psychological aspects of the story that are in the original and novel are swapped for jump scares and on-screen violence. Even if Pet Sematary
is not a movie one particularly enjoys, it still had a heavy dose of existential dread that is lost here. And while the family drama aspect is still there, it is watered down in the aforementioned
jump scares and body count. Pet Sematary is a downright ugly and dark story, even by King standards, and this film does not understand why, replacing the mechanisms that made it that way with something far too facile and predictable.

Perhaps the biggest overall problem Pet Sematary: Bloodlines has is that of many book-to-film adaptations; it does not respect the source material. The events that were said to unfold in novels and original film are fundamentally changed here for no good reason, and it makes one wonder why this is a constant thing within the genre. There is probably a lot more to it than simply the writers wanting it that way, but personal blame is not really the point. Rather, it is a matter of lamenting the inability of the industry to not take advantage of exploring a writer’s world in a way that adds to it, rather than trying to replace it.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines photo
Natalie Alyn Lind as Norma in Pet Sematary, streaming on Paramount+, 2023.

However, the film is not without merits. It looks very good and was shot very well. The action, especially at the last parts of the film, is visceral and effective at what it wants to be. The violence is certainly the most in any Pet Sematary movie yet, and while that may not necessarily be the right thing for this franchise, Horror fans who love kills and body counts will be happy. There are new story elements introduced in order to explore themes of secrecy, sins of the fathers, and sacrifice, but none of it captures the moral conundrum of choosing to resurrect a loved one and the dread that comes with it like before. The film never overcomes the prequel pitfall of having the backstory be too predictable, and the departure from King’s story would not be so bad if it was done well, but in the end it comes off as another attempt to “fix” what was never broken.

Unfortunately, that trend of sequels continues with Pet Sematary: Bloodlines… which is a mostly lackluster excursion into the world of one of Stephen King’s most beloved stories. Like many Horror prequels, nothing here will stay with you like the first one does. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Pet Sematary: Bloodlines 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines movie poster
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines / Paramount+ (2023)

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