One of Stephen King’s bleakest and most horrific novels of all time is Pet Sematary. A devastating, intimate portrait of grief, the story follows the Creed family as they move to a new home in a rural college town only to be confronted with death in ways no family should ever have to face. Mary Lambert’s faithful adaptation of the novel in 1989 holds strong as one of the most beloved cinematic King adaptations, but it should surprise no one that plans for a new iteration have been in the works for a long time now. Thanks to a renaissance of Stephen King’s works on both the big and small screen, those plans have finally come to fruition. Lucky for fans, though, it’s quickly become clear that this new adaptation of Pet Sematary couldn’t be in better hands, and the trailer further solidifies that.
Approaching the set, nestled in a rural area an hour outside of Montreal, an Orinoco tanker truck parked in an open field outside of base camp seems to stand sentry, an ominous signaling that our group of journalists have left the real world and stepped foot into the fictional outskirts of Ludlow, Maine. It’s as if walking straight into King’s novel, with the Crandall and Creed homes separated by the infamous road. And a certain cemetery is sure to please Constant Readers.
Getting to this place has been a long time coming according to producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. “Well, there’s a fairly long history I think here at Paramount of several scripts preceding me at different attempts over time,” he tells us. “You know, when I was here they asked me a little while ago what I thought of the idea of Pet Sematary and I thought it was a great idea because it is, I don’t know if it’s my favorite Stephen King book, but it’s close if it’s not that. Because it deals with something that’s utterly timeless and, you know, which is death and our relationship to it. And as a father, that really interests me so we did a script with a writer named Matt Greenberg and then we debated it for a while, then we brought on Jeff Buhler; they both did a great job, but Jeff brought it home.”
Once the script was finally in place, it kicked off an extensive search for the right director. They found two. For Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, both huge fans of Stephen King’s works and Pet Sematary, this was a passion project like no other. “A lot of meetings, a lot of pitching, a lot of telling the story over and over again to convince people of our vision. Reminding people of the fan base and how important it was and how we’re lucky that it did as well as it did because we’re in another Stephen King renaissance and we shouldn’t blow it. We should be making great movies out of his material, cause the material warrants it,” Widmyer explained of the lengthy process the directing duo endured to land their dream job.
Of their vision, Kolsch adds “We’re fans of Stephen King and the book and the original movie, so we want it to be respectful to that.
“When we came in, obviously this was a project that, unlike everything else we’ve done before, we didn’t write this one ourselves, there’s a script in place. We worked with the writer to actually try and get closer to the book than what the original script was. There was a lot of things in the book that we were always big fans of or things that didn’t even make it into the original movie that we always wanted to do in the movie and we worked hard to get those into the script. So, that has been our approach, to kind of be faithful to the book, but, yet, the best remakes are the things that sort of stay faithful to the essence, not necessarily every single thing that happens.”
Further demonstrating a deep understanding of the source material and giving hints as to just how dark this adaptation is promising to be, Widmyer draws comparisons to the bleakness of the directors’ breakout hit, Starry Eyes, “It’s a dark fucking movie. It’s Pet Sematary, this is not…a lot of Stephen King’s work is, I love it, it’s sentimental. The good guys win. Even at the end of The Shining, Wendy marries Dick Halloran, people forget that, that’s not in the movie, but Stephen King has a heart. And a lot of his work has a heart. This one is one that was almost one that he like put in a drawer for a like a year and he felt really disturbed by what he had written. So, you have to make that story. I would say that yes, we’ll see how it all comes out but it’s definitely very Starry Eyes in as far as I think it’s very emotional, very psychological, it’s very grounded in its horror, and it goes pretty far.”
He adds, “It’s really not a studio film.”
As for just how faithful to the source novel this will be, we can expect some surprises. “We’re making some changes or doing some decisions based on things that we think would be really cool, but it’s all sort of within the spirit of the original source material,” Kolsch teases and Widmyer expands on it further, “Here’s what I’ll say, we’ve refreshed some things, in the essence of the novel, but I would actually say that there might be more things from the novel that weren’t in the first movie that are gonna be in our thing. That everyone loves, fans love, that’s all I’ll say that are in the movie. That I’m shocked that they let us get away with.” That has us very, very intrigued.
It sounds obvious at this point, but it had to be asked. Will Widmyer and Kolsch be allowed to go full throttle in terms of unrelenting horror? Di Bonaventura confirms, “I don’t see how it could not be rated R. Having tussled with the ratings boards more than I’d care to admit, when you have a child in jeopardy, which we have throughout this story, you’re automatically an R. I’ll say it this way also, we’ve never had a conversation with the studio about it being PG-13. My feeling about rating in general is I think some movies really demand one or the other. In this case, I think you let it be what it is. And so, I would tend to want it to be R.”
This is only the beginning of what was uncovered on set.