Pet Sematary: Bloodlines (2023) Review – Fantastic Fest

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Pet Sematary: Bloodlines Poster

Jim Morazzini

Pet Sematary has been sequelized, rebooted, and now with the arrival of Pet Sematary: Bloodlines it has a prequel. Adapting Stephen King’s works for the screen is a risky enough proposition, creating new stories based on them even more so as anyone whose seen a few Children of the Corn sequels or reboots can attest. King himself however seems to be happy with this film and tweeted

“In the book, this is the story Jud Crandall tells Louis Creed to try and dissuade him from using the Pet Sematary,” wrote King. “The screenplay takes a few liberties, but it’s a fine story. David Duchovny is excellent. The secret, as always, is caring about the characters.”

Stephen King

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines opens in the summer of 1969 as Jud Crandall (Jackson White, Ambulance, The Space Between) and his girlfriend Norma (Natalie Alyn Lind, Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen Part One, Mockingbird) are getting ready to leave Ludlow and join the Peace Corps. He’s the first of his family to move away since the town was founded. As his father Dan (Henry Thomas, The Fall of the House of Usher, Fire in the Sky) says “I never thought I’d see the day when a Crandall left Ludlow”.

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On the other hand, Jud’s decision draws nothing but scorn from Bill Baterman (David Duchovny, Evolution, The X-Files) whose son Timmy (Jack Mulhern, Unconformity, Painkiller) is on his way back to Ludlow after serving in Vietnam.

Lindsey Anderson Beer makes her directorial debut as well as co-writing the script with Jeff Buhler whose credits include the 2019 Pet Sematary reboot and several other genre films ranging from The Midnight Meat Train to Studio 666. It doesn’t take her long to show a flair for the genre staging an effective attack on Norma by Timmy’s oddly behaving dog as an even more strangely behaving Timmy looks on.

Of course, there’s no real mystery about why Timmy is acting the way he does even before he quotes Marjorie’s (Pam Grier, Coffy, Ghosts of Mars) father’s suicide note to her. Even if the prologue didn’t spell it out, this is Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, after all, you know somebody is getting buried there. And he makes a good boogyman, with simple white makeup that pays homage to Bob Clark’s undead Vietnam vet film, Deathdream.

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The film’s other plot thread is, of course, that of Jed and how he and his family have become bound to Ludlow. That includes a flashback to 1674 and the fate of Ludlow and his men. Unfortunately, this turns out to be pretty superficial and doesn’t really go into any detail. Instead, Beer and Buhler turn Pet Sematary: Bloodlines into a lower gore version of The Evil Dead as Timmy recruits some help and those townsfolk who know about the Sematary stalk them through, and under the Baterman farm.

Yes, it’s been done before, but it’s done well enough here that it still works, especially in the dark, claustrophobic tunnels. Tunnels that, along with the marshes around the Sour Land, become a back home metaphor for what Timmy endured in Vietnam.

One thing that was different was the way the film’s two Native American characters, Manny (Forrest Goodluck, Blood Quantum, The Revenant) and his sister Donna (Isabella LaBlanc, In an Instant, Long Slow Exhale) are portrayed. There are no drunken parents to embarrass them and neither of them suddenly burst out with mystic knowledge their Shaman uncle taught them.

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While I did say Pet Sematary: Bloodlines becomes a lower gore Evil Dead, that’s compared to that franchise. There is a fair amount of practical gore including a few gut munching scenes that are fairly graphic for a major studio release.

While it’s probably not going to replace the original in most fans’ hearts, it is a solid little film and a lot better than I was expecting from a DTV entry in a series known for its variable quality. If only I could say that about more King adaptations and follow ons.

While it’s probably not going to replace the original in most fans’ hearts, it is a solid little film and a lot better than I was expecting from a DTV entry in a series known for its variable quality.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines had its world premiere on September 23rd at this year’s Fantastic Feast with a second screening on the 27th. You can get more information here. It makes its streaming debut on October 6th on Paramount+.