By Josh Reilly B.
The last few years have seen an influx in Stephen King adaptations, from 2019’s Doctor Sleep to last year’s Firestarter. King is reportedly the top-selling horror author of all time, and ranks in the top 25 of all genres, and his stories have proven to be adaptable and compelling for general audiences.
The latest King-esque film comes in the form of Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, a new film that uniquely is not a direct adaption of any novel, but instead exists as a prequel to the classic book. Bloodlines is set in the same town, features the same notable cemetery that new characters return to in every story in the continuity, and even has one of the original heroes: a young Jud Crandall, aka the older neighbor from the story who provides the necessary exposition and backstory for the spooky events happening nearby. This film essentially serves as a way for audiences to learn how Crandall developed such a deep understanding of the woods in the town, as well as the horrors that lie with the pet cemetery.
Crandall is the center point, but there are a lot of other moving parts as well. The main story is kickstarted by a grieving father’s decision to resurrect his son, who died in the Vietnam War, using the curse in the town, which then causes a series of tragic events and deaths. The father is played by David Duchovny, who brings a level of class and esteem to the proceedings, but unfortunately is underutilized throughout. It seems as if there could have been a more tragic, emotional story to be told in Bloodlines, but the decision to flip back and forth between a young Jud and Duchovny’s Bill means that neither plot line gets the focus or attention they deserve.
As a prequel, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines works well. It informs the audience on the backstory of one of the main characters in this world, while also expanding upon the lore of the horror side of things. There’s a particularly memorable and gruesome flashback sequence telling the origins of this small town that adds a lot to the overall story, and provides some spooks and scares as well. Setting the film in the year 1969 also proved to be an interesting choice, as it adds a different and more unique atmosphere than the 2019 Pet Semetary remake, for example.
Where Bloodlines falls short is in its horror. As a Stephen King story, there’s a certain expectation for this to be frightening and eerie, but the film unfortunately lacks in both departments. There’s nothing particularly scary about Bloodlines, and the film has minimal atmosphere, leaving it to feel relatively dry and flat at times. There also appears to be many missed opportunities throughout, such as the storyline between Bill and his son, which could elevate the film in several areas but aren’t explored nearly enough at all. Bill’s son, for example, is positioned as the main undead character, aka the one who begins to terrorize the town after being resurrected by his father. The audience doesn’t get a chance to see what Timmy was like prior to these events, however, meaning that there isn’t much of a reference point to go off of. Beyond that, the parallels to PTSD and returning home from the Vietnam War could have been explored more, but these themes unfortunately stop before they even take off.
Without spoilers, there are certain important sequences that appear to be quickly edited and chopped down, adding a significant amount of confusion to the story and taking away a great deal of character development for Jud in particular. There’s a lot of backstory featuring a trio of friends who have since grown older, one of whom is Jud and the other is Timmy, which would have added to the emotion of needing to fight against the latter in order to survive. However, everything once again falls flat in a way that means the audience has little invested in these sequences.
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines features a stunning performance from David Duchovny, adding his usual charm and style to the story with a decidedly different performance, but it isn’t enough to fulfill the full potential of the premise. The film isn’t scary enough and lacks any sort of atmosphere, and misses the mark on some of its emotional beats as well.