Coming to Paramount+ on October 6th, “Pet Sematary: Bloodlines” is set to expand on details from Stephen King’s 1983 horror classic.
Unfortunately for first-time director (and co-writer) Lindsey Anderson Beer, it fails to capture the same level of tension and terror displayed by the book, the 2019 film for which it serves as a prequel, or the much-maligned 1989 original .
What is the story of Pet Sematary: Bloodlines?
Based on the never-before-told chapter of Pet Sematary, Stephen King’s original novel Bloodlines takes place in 1969.
Young Jud Crandall (Jackson White) dreams of leaving his hometown of Ludlow, Maine, behind, but soon discovers dark secrets hidden within and must confront a dark family history that forever ties him to the town will hold.
Together, Jud and his childhood friends must fight against an ancient evil that has had Ludlow’s grip since its inception and that, once unearthed, has the power to destroy everything in its path. Sometimes dead is better.
Who else is in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines?
The cast of this film also includes Forrest Goodluck, Jack Mulhern, Henry Thomas, Natalie Alyn Lind, Isabella Star LaBlanc, Samantha Mathis, Pam Grier and David Duchovny.
Related Article: David Duchovny, Pam Grier and More Appear in First Images from ‘Pet Sematary: Bloodlines’
What works about Pet Sematary: Bloodlines?
You have to give director Lindsey Beer one thing: There are certainly moments that work in this new horror film.
Beer, who co-wrote the film with Jeff Buhler, has had something of a rollercoaster ride in the entertainment industry.
As a rising star writer, she’s had ups (Netflix fun “Sierra Burgess is a Loser”), downs (the mangled final product, the adaptation of “Chaos Walking”) and much in between, including stints in writers’ rooms to figure out what’s going to happen in the future “Transformers” and “Pacific Rim” films. There are also several notable projects in development, including a Star Trek film franchise entry and a script based on the cult ’80s toy/cartoon series MASK: Mobile Armored Strike Kommand based.
So being commissioned to direct a film is quite an achievement, but one that feels earned after all that time in the development trenches.
The new film is intended as a prequel to the 2019 reimagining of King’s tome and features some commonly used King themes. The town of Ludlow, for example, is a hub of evil and boasts the hellish titular location, which we’re told (more than once) needs to be fed by the living and horrifying to those disturbed enough to hear it whispers things.
The town’s history is briefly explored in King’s book through a story told by the elder Jud, something that is rather glossed over in the two main film adaptations. It makes perfect sense to film it as a full-length story, even if that means taking the typical prequel risk of explaining things that never needed explanation.
Beer and Bühler mostly tread the line carefully and manage to conjure up a few decent scares along the way, even if it slowly becomes clear to them that they’re using many familiar tricks in a simplified way.
And while the cast is interesting on paper (it’s fun, David Duchovny, veteran of The Files, it doesn’t always translate into entertainment on screen.
Some fascinating themes such as the impact of Vietnam, personal responsibility and generational trauma are explored to some extent, but the whole is far less than the sum of its (body) parts.
What doesn’t work about Pet Sematary: Bloodlines?
Where should I start? There’s a lot wrong with this prequel, it seems to think that the story of how the town of Ludlow got its reputation was worth digging up.
The cast is largely empty, with the younger actors ranging from interesting contributions to the story (Forrest Goodluck, Isabella LaBlanc) to feeling less alive than the bedraggled pooch that Jud and his girlfriend face on their ill-fated way out of town encounter .
As for the veterans, they largely sleepwalk through a story that gives them little to engage with other than proclamations about the dangers of the city and anger over what happened to their children. People like Duchovny and Henry Thomas (who has so much more to do in anything by Mike Flanagan) are stranded in something that’s less a Paramount Plus film and more a D+ film.
Speaking of history, we’re treated to not one, but two exhibit dumps, one of which is set in colonial times when English settlers enter the country and decide it might be a great place to stay, before realizing that they’re all of the are at the mercy of infernal influence. This chapter actually has something interesting to say, and it’s a shame the film doesn’t do more with it.
And what makes it even more frustrating is that it repeats certain points in further explanations of what is going on. We understand: Because the city was founded on malevolent land, some of the original families and their descendants are trying to keep people from being lured by its resurrection magic. (They do a terrible job).
A few solid scares and a memorable historical sequence really can’t save this film from itself. Beer makes a few directorial flourishes that annoy more than help tell the story, and the whole thing is just a chore to sit through. In the end, you may actually find yourself on the hunt for the evil hellsite because the pesky people tasked with guarding it come out on top.
With all the blood on display, “Bloodlines” might be better off being titled “Pet Sematary: Bloodless,” as it’s mired in boring tropes and boring subplots that tie in but never lead to anything insightful. Part history lesson, part melodrama, it’s an idea that probably should have remained buried in the minds of the people behind it. Sometimes it really is better to be dead, as the film tries to tell us.
“Pet Sematary: Bloodlines” gets 5 out of 10 stars.