Arrow in the Head reviews Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, a prequel to the 2019 adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary
PLOT: Pet Sematary character Jud Crandall has his first run-in with the walking dead in 1969.
REVIEW: If you’re reading this review, you’re probably aware that the Stephen King novel Pet Sematary deals with an ancient Miꞌkmaq Tribe burial ground in the wilderness surrounding the town of Ludlow, Maine. Any dead animal or human that gets buried in this ground will be resurrected – but they don’t come back quite right. In the book, lifelong Ludlow resident Jud Crandall tells the story of Timmy Baterman, a local boy who died in World War II and was buried in the resurrecting ground by his father. That didn’t turn out well. Now, following a 1989 adaptation of Pet Sematary, a sequel to that adaptation, and a 2019 remake / re-adaptation of Pet Sematary, director Lindsey Anderson Beer brings us Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, which expands the Timmy Baterman story into feature length… but as King warned when he gave this movie his stamp of approval, this version of the Baterman story “takes liberties”.
The first change is the setting, because Bloodlines is meant to function as a prequel to the 2019 film – which, unlike the ‘89 film, didn’t actually feature Jud telling the Baterman story. The story was told in a separate, companion short film called The Tale of Timmy Baterman, though. Due to this connection to Pet Sematary ‘19, the prequel shifts the setting over from World War II to the Vietnam era, 1969. Jackson White plays Jud as a young man who is about to leave town and join the Peace Corps with his girlfriend Norma (Natalie Alyn Lind)… but their plans are derailed when Norma is attached by the usually friendly dog that belongs to Jud’s childhood friend Timmy Baterman (Jack Mulhern), who has just returned to town after seeing combat in Vietnam.
Beer and co-writer Jeff Buhler (who also worked on the script for the 2019 version of Pet Sematary) made some odd choices in their approach to telling this story. First is the decision to abandon any attempt at a mysterious build-up: we see in the very first scene that Timmy’s dad Bill (David Duchovny) is burying Timmy in the ancient burial ground, and we see Timmy attack the dog as he emerges from the ground. So we know the whole time that Timmy and the dog are both reanimated corpses, while it takes the people of Ludlow a while to figure this out. Sure, plenty of us already know the set-up for the Timmy Baterman story, but it didn’t mean the movie had to be so obvious about it. There are also some filmmaking choices that might leave you shaking your head. For example, when Jud takes Norma to the hospital immediately after she’s attacked by the dog, why show flashbacks to the attack while he sits beside her hospital bed? We just saw this stuff twenty seconds ago!
Jud has always been a tragic character who makes a stupid mistake. In Pet Sematary, he tells his new neighbor about the burial ground even though he knows the dead don’t come back the same. He experienced this with his own dog when he was a child. He experienced it with Timmy Baterman. But he figures it might be okay if the neighbor brings back their child’s cat. Things go downhill from there. Jud couldn’t have known how bad it would get, but he should have known the burial ground was a secret to keep to himself. The information Beer and Buhler add to the story in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines makes Jud look like a complete idiot who bungles his life’s work by telling anyone about the burial ground. While trying to figure out what’s going on with Timmy, he unearths a secret the town’s most prominent families have been keeping for three hundred years so they can stop evil from spreading across the land. There’s even a prequel within the prequel to get this information across, giving us a glimpse at something that happened in the 1600s. Showing us that Jud had all of this knowledge but still lets people mess around with that burial ground makes the character look very bad.
But really, we shouldn’t hold anything that happens in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines against the older versions of the Jud character, because the movie doesn’t properly connect to any other entry in the franchise. It may be on the record as being a prequel to the 2019 film, but in that movie Jud talks about his dog Biffer being resurrected when he was 11 and having to be put down (again) because it came back mean. The Jud in Bloodlines wouldn’t be many years down the line from the Biffer situation, but he seems to have no clue about the burial ground or its power of resurrection. The only nod to Biffer is a shot of his grave. Maybe there were pieces of story lost in the editing.
Bloodlines doesn’t work as a Pet Sematary prequel… but taken on its own merits, it’s a serviceable little horror movie. White does a fine job of playing the lead character, and he has a solid supporting cast. Beyond Lind, Duchovny, and Mulhern – who is effective in making Timmy quite creepy – there’s also Henry Thomas as Jud’s father and Pam Grier as a postal worker who knows Ludlow’s secrets. Samatha Mathis is woefully underused in the role of Jud’s mother, but Forrest Goodluck and Isabella Star LaBlanc do some strong work. It was a nice move to finally include Native American characters in a Pet Sematary story, and Beer and Buhler made them good characters. Goodluck’s Manny – who grew up with Jud and Timmy – was my favorite character in the movie, and LaBlanc’s Donna, Manny’s older sister, is likeable as well.
There are some nice moments with the resurrected dead, and some that stray too close to becoming your average zombie movie – especially when characters take up guns and advise that the only way to kill these creatures is to aim for their eyes. The title isn’t the only thing that’s generic about this movie. And once night falls, you might as well look away from the screen, because the picture is so dark that it’s difficult to see whatever action may be going on.
It’s not likely that any other Pet Sematary film will ever be as creepy or disturbing as the ‘89 movie, but Pet Sematary: Bloodlines could have been a lot better if different choices had been made while it was being put together. As it is, it’s okay on its own, but doesn’t fit into the big picture. While it can add 87 minutes of living dead creepiness into your October, it’s not likely to stick with you for very long beyond those 87 minutes.
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is now streaming on Paramount+.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/pet-sematary-bloodlines-review/