Pet Sematary: Bloodlines REVIEW – A Bloody Good Time | Fantastic Fest 2023

"Sometimes dead is better."

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines

The biggest disappointment of my 2019 movie season was the remake of Pet Sematary. There was just a lack of understanding of the source material, and in trying to do things differently from the original, it ended up being a shallow tale of a rich story. Coming into Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, which is a prequel of the Pet Sematary tale, I was worried that it would end up doing the same thing. The good news here is that it doesn’t fall into the same trap, and actually creates quite an affecting story from the horror embedded within.

It is 1969, in Ludlow, Maine. Jud Crandall (Jackson White) is on his way out of town, off to join the Peace Corps with his girlfriend Norma (Natalie Alyn Lind). Jud here is the bridge that connects this story to Pet Sematary, so we know that there’s no way he’s leaving town. True enough, he and Norma get into an accident involving his friend Timmy’s (Jack Mulhern) dog, and the trip is delayed for a bit while Norma heals. The movie is set in the time period of the ongoing Vietnam War, and Timmy has just arrived home, though considering how he stood by and watched as his dog practically desecrated Norma’s hand, he isn’t quite himself. Mulhern is effectively unnerving as the possessed Timmy, at times making us sympathesize with the character and the losses he’s experienced, yet also being fairly terrifying when the time calls for it.

What I like about the film is how economically it establishes characterisation and relationships. Jud looks at an old photo of him, Timmy and Manny (Forrest Goodluck) and we’re given a brief flashback. But that flashback does so much in showing us who these three friends are to each other, and how the ongoing war has impacted their friendship. Jud is also dealing with the frustration of having a hero complex but never provided with the circumstances to do anything about it.

The core of Pet Sematary has always been about a father’s love and grief, and it is no different for this prequel. The moment Timmy’s father Bill (David Duchovny) announces that Timmy is back and has been honorably discharged, the look on his face tells us that he’s done something he shouldn’t have, all because he couldn’t bear to face the reality of his son’s death. Duchovny only has a minor role in this film, but he does so much with the screentime he’s given. He shows us Bill’s anger at the unfairness of it all, all co-existing with the guilt he feels because he was unable to protect his son from the dangers of the world, as well as the tremendous grief he refuses to deal with.

Jud’s father Dan (Henry Thomas) has never wanted Jud to stay in Ludlow, eager for him to leave as soon as possible. He doesn’t want him to deal with the same fate his bloodlines imposed onto him, forced to deal with the sins of those that came before him. He wants a different life for Jud, but is that even possible – can anyone outrun their legacy?

The film also devotes proper space to the indigenous characters and history. Characters like Donna (Isabella LaBlanc) and Manny get decent arcs, and we come to understand the indigenous people’s part in the lore of the burial ground. Even though Jud is technically the protagonist, Manny is truly the heart of the film. His relationship with sister Donna is so poignantly presented, and the lush images of the two of them sitting in a field of sunflowers while smoking weed will probably stay with me for a long while.

Massive kudos to director Lindsey Anderson Beer for capturing so much of what makes Pet Sematary so scary, and giving us an enjoyable prequel.

Review screener provided.

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Pet Sematary: Bloodlines
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines never loses sight of the rich themes that makes King's work so engaging. Well-acted with effective horror set pieces, this prequel is well worth a watch.