There exists not a single person on the planet who read Stephen King’s 1983 novel Pet Sematary or watched either the 1989 film adaptation or 2019 remake and thought to themselves: “I wonder what cranky old neighbor Jud Crandall was like as an 18-year-old?” Yet, here we are with Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, director/co-writer Lindsey Anderson Beer’s 1969-set prequel, and possibly the most unnecessary IP cash grab in the history of cinema. No one has yet to make even a decent version of the King’s original story, with both attempts being dour and deadly dull affairs, even as the work itself is richly cinematic. 1992’s critically derided sequel comes closest to something resembling entertainment, but that is more a result of Clancy Brown’s deranged lead performance as an undead piece-of-shit sheriff than anything approaching intention. The story of Pet Sematary concerns, appropriately enough, a pet cemetery in the small Maine town of Ludlow that sits on the site of an ancient Native American burial ground. Long ago, animals were buried there in an effort to keep demonic forces at bay, ones who occupied the forest just beyond its borders. Any dead creature buried within its ground will come back to life, but hellbent only on satiating its bloodthirsty appetite, a fact made crystal clear after a grieving father buries his recently deceased son and gets a scalpel-wielding psychopath in return.
A dead son also propels the events of Bloodlines, as forlorn father Bill (David Duchovny) attempts to resurrect son Timmy (Jack Mulhern) after his dead body is shipped back from the front lines of the Vietnam War. Former best friend and neighbor Jud Crandall (Jackson White) has miraculously escaped the draft on numerous occasions, and is now headed to join the Peace Corps along with his beautiful girlfriend, Norma (Natalie Alyn Lind). Dad (Henry Thomas) and Mom (Samantha Matis) are anxious for him to leave Ludlow — perhaps too anxious. Meanwhile, another former member of the friend group, Manny (Forrest Goodluck), lives with his hippy-dippy artist sister Donna (Isabella Star LaBlanc) and gets stoned a lot. She’s been having nightmarish visions, which both frighten her and inspire some of her best work. (It’s heavily implied that these visions are the result of her being Native American, though no attempt is made to develop this idea or convince its inclusion isn’t the product of lazily offensive caricature, so do with that plot point what you will.) Norma ends up getting attacked by Timmy’s dog on the day they are supposed to depart, so Jud is conveniently stuck at home, allowing him to reconnect with Manny as a result of the two of them seeing Timmy engage in some questionable behavior, like stating that Jud’s dad paid off the local doctor so that his son wouldn’t be drafted. Come for the undead killers, stay for the draft-dodging!
There’s so much unnecessary filler to be found in Bloodlines, including an extended flashback that details the founding fathers’ discovery of the cursed land. Strike that, the various plotlines feel like filler because Beer chooses to do absolutely nothing of interest with them, even as she keeps hinting at something far thematically richer. Timmy is less a character than a dangling metaphor, a Vietnam war vet who returns home as the walking dead, riddled by PTSD. Then there’s the matter of those aforementioned settlers, who basically stole the land from the Native American tribe that called it their home. They have been tasked with protecting Ludlow from its evil forces, each subsequent generation forced to endure the sins of the past, tethered to the town in an effort to cleanse its soul. Beer and co-writer Jeff Buhler are not interested in mining any of this material, though, instead opting for a lot of cheap jump scares, subpar gore, and a third act rendered so dark that it’s nearly impossible to make heads or tails of what is going on at any given moment. This is also the type of film that features a flashback to an event that happened literally 45 seconds prior. It’s instances like these that makes one ponder if there is a longer version of the film somewhere on the cutting room floor, one that actually attempted to flesh out its themes and develop its myriad characters and narrative threads. As is, Duchovny seems defeated from the opening frame, Goodluck does his best to inject personality and life into a character that is insultingly written, and White knows how to rock a white tank top and… well, that’s about it. But no one should really be surprised at these failures: after all, this is a movie that both opens and closes with the words, “Sometimes, dead is better.” Anyone unfortunate enough to endure Pet Sematary: Bloodlines will undoubtedly agree.
DIRECTOR: Lindsey Anderson Beer; CAST: Forrest Goodluck, Jackson White, Henry Thomas, Natalie Alyn Lind; DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount+; STREAMING: October 6; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 24 min.