Movie trailers spoiling important plot points isn’t anything new — the twist in Soylent Green, T-800’s change of heart in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Darth Maul’s double-sided lightsaber in The Phantom Menace were all ruined months before the films came out — but it’s still an annoying phenomenon. What does divulging [REDACTED] dying in the frequently-delayed Dark Phoenix accomplish? It’s not to build excitement, because no one is excited for Dark Phoenix. A far more egregious recent example is the second trailer for Pet Sematary, which impressively (?) manages to ruin the film’s key scene for both people who are familiar with the Stephen King novel/1989 original film and those who aren’t. It’s double inexcusable because: Pet Sematary is good!
Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, Pet Sematary follows the Creed family — father Louis (Jason Clarke), mother Rachel (Amy Seimetz), and two kids, eight-year-old Ellie (Jeté Laurence, in a fantastic performance) and toddler Gage (Hugo/Lucas Lavoie) — who discover an animal graveyard in the woods behind their new home following a move from Boston to Maine, because Stephen King. The movie wastes no time in establishing a foreboding tone (there’s some great bloody makeup work during a scene at a doctor’s office) and introducing every character, including neighbor Jud Crandall, played by the always-welcome John Lithgow. Jud has first-hand knowledge of the cemetery — and what lies beyond it. That’s where he takes Louis following the death of the family’s beloved cat, Church. Note to self: never follow a kind, but troubled old man onto an Indian burial ground (at night!) to bury a dead animal.
Despite the rapid introductions, however, Pet Sematary takes a bit to get going. But when it does, like in the thrilling third act, it outshines the 1989 film — and most other King adaptations. (The ending is easily the best part of the film.) Kölsch and Widmyer, along with screenwriter Jeff Buhler, clearly had a blast playing with expectations; whether it’s the trucks buzzing down the highway or the procession of children in creepy animal masks, we’re supposed to worry about what these images mean first and be surprised how it turns out later. The script handles grief without drowning in misery, although Rachel’s backstory could use some trimming. Pet Sematary comes most alive (pun intended?) whenever Laurence is on-screen — the Sneaky Pete actress is a revelation in a role that requires a lot from her. She toggles effortlessly from youthful glee to genuine heartbreak. The rest of the cast is solid, too, playing characters whose motivations make sense, a necessity for any horror movie where someone doing something stupid (DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR) can break the film’s spell.
So, it’s a shame that their hard work was undone by a two-minute promo video.
The trailer, which has over 7.5 million views, gives away the big change from the original and the most memorable instance of violence in the remake. Maybe I’m stressing this point too much (call it a… pet peeve) — and I realize they’re a necessary evil, for studios to build enthusiasm for upcoming projects and for websites (like, in full disclosure, ours) because it’s not like we’re NOT going to cover every second of Avengers: Endgame — but every time I got caught up in Pet Sematary, I remembered the trailer and how much it gave away. And that’s even coming from someone who’s familiar with King’s novel. To paraphrase the film’s tagline, sometimes not knowing is better. Go into it colder than a corpse.
In an interview one year after Pet Sematary was released, Stephen King said, “If I had my way about it, I still would not have published Pet Sematary. I don’t like it. It’s a terrible book — not in terms of the writing, but it just spirals down into darkness. It seems to be saying that nothing works and nothing is worth it, and I don’t really believe that.” The Pet Sematary remake is suitably dark, both in terms of R-rated content and the way it’s shot (apparently it’s always moody-blue in rural Maine), but it’s also a hopeful film in its own weird way, about how a family, including pets, will do anything to stick together, consequences be damned. You could almost call it sweet, if the ground didn’t smell so sour.
Should you watch the Pet Sematary trailer? Never. But should you watch Pet Sematary? In a twist worth spoiling, for sure.
‘Pet Sematary’ opens in theaters on April 5th.