Wednesday, October 4, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

Dead is better. Much, much better.

In Chapter 39 of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, Jud Crandall tells his neighbor the story of Timmy Baterman. Young Timmy — killed in action during World War II — was reanimated using ancient magic by a father who was not ready to live the rest of his life without his only son. But despite the senior Baterman’s best efforts, Crandall explains, Timmy came back wrong; His skin hung from his bones. His eyes were cold and gray. He smelled like death. He somehow knew things about his small town of Ludlow, too, dark secrets that he had no earthly business knowing. Jud and other terrified neighbors tried to show Timmy’s father the error of his ways, to convince him that losing a son was better than living with whatever it was that the Micmac’s dark magic had raised from the ground. Baterman couldn’t live with the pain of his loss, though, electing instead to commit murder-suicide and burn their home to ashes. Crandall shares Timmy Baterman’s story in hopes of persuading the good Dr. Louis Creed — grieving the death of his own son — that sometimes, dead is better.
That story, an anecdote intended to reinforce the theme of a larger, much more complex narrative, is now a Major Motion Picture from the fine people at Paramount! A prequel to 2019’s Pet Sematary remake — which is apparently a real film that was released in theaters and grossed over $100 million — Pet Sematary: Bloodlines begins in 1969, as a young Jud Crandall (Jackson White) and his girlfriend, Norma (Natalie Alyn Lind) prepare to leave Ludlow for the Peace Corps. Jud’s father (Henry Thomas, completing a hat trick of King adaptations after Gerald’s Game and Doctor Sleep) looks on in approval, seemingly eager for his son to escape both the military draft and rural Maine’s suffocating provinciality. But when Jud’s childhood friend, Timmy (Jack Mulhern) returns from Vietnam with a breathtaking lack of social skills and a debilitating case of body odor, Jud suspects that Timmy’s father (David Duchovny) may have toyed with forces beyond his control. What Jud uncovers, however, threatens to bring all of Ludlow’s worst kept secrets into the light.

The feature debut from Lindsey Anderson Beer (Netflix’s The Magic Order), Bloodlines is a coherent series of images played in a predictable sequence for roughly eighty-seven minutes. Shots are competently staged, makeup effects are adequately executed, and characters take actions that stand up to logical scrutiny. It is, in the strictest sense, a movie, but it’s deeply uninspired in a way that leaves us to wonder whether Paramount again missed the irony in trying to turn Pet Sematary — a story about the dangerous futility of resurrecting the dead — into a franchise. Beer and co-writer Jeff Buhler (who helped pen the 2019 “original”) do their best to find a fresh angle, at least, using the Vietnam War as a point of connection between Jud and Timmy: Whereas our hero’s parents score him a deferment, Timmy is not so lucky, leaving behind a father who wraps his anguish in the American flag and chides the Crandalls for their cowardice. Like King’s novel, Bloodlines recounts a parent’s failure to protect their child from the brutal world around them.
Despite some lofty subtext, though, Bloodlines is more likely to remind audiences of their favorite shade of wallpaper than it is of King’s novel or its classic 1989 film adaptation. Jackson White surely meets all the prerequisites of a square-jawed hero, and Micmac siblings Manny and Donna (Forrest Goodluck and Isabella Star LeBlanc) are thrown in for some occult flavor, but not a single compelling wrinkle is added to the Pet Sematary mythos that would justify the money and time spent on this endeavor. And while a haunted-looking David Duchovny threatens to liven things up here and there — if you’re into that sort of thing — he simply isn’t in enough of the film to make any significant impact. There isn’t enough of anything in Bloodlines, really; Unlike say, the Star Wars prequels, where the foregone dramatic conclusions were at least complimented — and sometimes contradicted — by altogether wild choices in tone and aesthetic, this film manages to tell a less interesting version of the original tale, robbing it of its thematic resonance along the way.
To be clear: Lindsey Anderson Beer seems to be a talented filmmaker, and Bloodlines has a few stray moments of dread that land without feeling particularly showy or overwrought. It even avoids the chintzy digital finish plaguing so many of these streaming horror releases — no drone shots, by my count! — and commits no mortal sins in its pace or storytelling. It’s just bland. Boring. Soulless. When compared to what very well may be Stephen King’s grimiest, most unsettling, most heartbreaking novel, Pet Semetary: Bloodlines reads like the version cut for exhibition on airlines patronized exclusively by Catholic nuns and poorly-behaved school children. This isn’t the first time a genre breakout has spawned underwhelming sequels, of course — #ScaryMovieMonth wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without the occasional Hellraiser 8 or Wishmaster 4 — but if Paramount’s intent is to reinvigorate interest in an IP that has already endured one ill-received follow-up (Admit it: You forgot all about Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary Two), this isn’t the way to do it.

Pet Sematary Bloodlines hits Paramount + on Friday, October 6th.

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