There is one fundamental thing about every single Stephen King story. In able hands, all of them can be made into exciting cinema. Unfortunately, though, that is not the case with Lindsey Anderson Beer’s prequel of the 2023 horror film, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines. I am not exactly a fan of the 2019 version of King’s Pet Sematary, which was a rather generic adaptation that couldn’t quite do justice to the source material. It had reliable actors like Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, and John Litngow, who all did their best, but the film didn’t quite have the punch that was needed. Making a prequel to that clearly doesn’t make any sense, at least to me, but the latest obsession with turning a classic horror novel into a dull, mediocre film is too hard to avoid for some people, I suppose. And truth be told, we only fuel this absolutely unnecessary trend by watching these films.
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines aims to be a prequel, but it is essentially a retelling of the same story, except it is set in 1969, which is fifty years prior to the events of the 2019 film. The character of Jud Crandall takes center stage in this one. Jud, a young man with all his hopes and desires, tries to leave the fateful town of Ludlow with his girlfriend, Norma. That obviously doesn’t happen, as Jud, under unforeseen circumstances, doesn’t get to leave. The main plot follows the tale of Jud’s friend Timmy, who returns from the Vietnam War in a coffin, but Timmy’s father Bill finds it too hard to accept his son’s fate and does exactly what you would expect him to do—make an attempt to resurrect his son at the infamous cemetery. This leads to dire consequences, as we all know from the story the older Jud told Louis Creed in the earlier film.
A prequel is a really tricky thing, especially when it comes to the horror genre. You already know what happens to a character, in this case, Jud Crandall. You have seen the future already, and the story this film tells is something that you have already heard from the character, although in bits and pieces. Then why would you even watch the one and a half-hour version of it? Especially when there is an absolute lack of surprise and the way it is presented is uninteresting and doesn’t have any spark. Rarely do I find the slow pace of a movie to be an issue, but even with a runtime of less than one and a half hours, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines feels like a snoozefest.
I blame the writing here. There are some choices that director Beer and her co-writer Jeff Buhler have made that I found extremely baffling. For example, the film opens with a really manic, grizzly-looking Bill digging “the” grave of Timmy. But the film cuts the scene there, and we don’t get to see the rest of what happens. I get that y’all are trying to build up the suspense by making the audience speculate about it. But did you consider that they already knew the story of Timmy thanks to the first film? Sure, if someone is watching this film without watching the first one and has zero idea about the lore of Ludlow Town, it might work for them, but a person would likely watch the earlier film before going into this one.
Imagine the impact the film could have had if they had shown what returns to Bill instead of his loving son, Timmy! Knowing about an event is one thing, but watching it unfold is a different ballgame. By choosing not to show the Bill and Timmy part in the very beginning, the film robbed itself of a grand, horror-filled setup. What we get is a glimpse of Jud’s family life—the kind of stuff you have seen millions of times in this genre. Henry Thomas, an actor I immensely like, plays the role of Jud’s father, which has a silver lining, although he barely had anything to do here. While the writing of Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is an unimpressive mess, the same cannot be said about Beer’s direction. I kind of felt that she wanted to tell the story in her own way, with certain convictions. She failed at that because of the utterly terrible writing and sloppy editing.
The thing is, Stephen King’s horror stories are not just about the thrills and chills. Most of the time, these stories come with underlying subtexts, complicated human conflicts, moral dilemmas, and many other aspects to which we can all relate. In my opinion, these are all the things that make those stories special. I have an admiration for stories set in the American small towns of the 80s, and King’s stories have a lot to do with that. Strangely, while the directors in the 80s or 90s had no problem churning out glorious film adaptations of King’s stories, the directors of our generation, barring Mike Flanagan, never quite get it right. The reason for that has to be the conventional horror treatment they give to these stories. The reason I am mentioning this here is that Pet Sematary was actually made into a far better film back in 1989, which did complete justice to King’s story by depicting the central theme so well. If you think about it, at its core, this is a story about a difficult choice that a father has to make. Either resurrect the dead child and suffer a series of horrific consequences, or accept the harsh truth. Obviously, both Louis in the earlier film and Bill in this film make the wrong choice, and the zombified versions of their daughter and son, respectively, run havoc. Sadly, neither of the films manages to properly depict the struggle the two fathers go through, due to the over-reliance on usual horror tropes like jump scares.
As a result, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines comes off as an extremely pointless prequel that has barely any cinematic value. I don’t mean to be harsh, but it is sort of an insult to King, which is unforgivable. Watching a film is always a personal choice, but if you don’t have a penchant for consuming garbage, you should stay away from this one. This film, like resurrected Timmy, should have stayed dead only.