Pet Sematary (2019)
★★ / ★★★★
The second reimagining of Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” is better than the first—but not by much. It is composed of the same mistakes that modern horror movies tend to make: a noticeable score designed to tell the audience what to think and how to feel, silly jump scares that can be predicted beat by beat, laughable instead of genuinely horrifying violence, and a rushed final act that offers minimal catharsis. The viewer is likely to walk away feeling cheated because of the generic nature of the experience.
I found the exposition to be safe but tolerable. Hoping to spend more time with their children, Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel (Amy Seimetz) decide to uproot their family and start anew in rural Maine, away from the hustle and bustle of Boston. In Ludlow, Louis will work in a clinic instead of a hospital while Rachel will stay home with the kids. But when the family cat, Church, dies in an accident, their friendly neighbor, Jud (John Lithgow), has an idea: to bury the cat in the woods where the land has a reputation of bringing the dead back to life. About a third of the way through, although the pacing is slow, each step is purposeful. There is a sense of foreboding. We even learn about Rachel’s relationship with death, particularly the guilt and trauma that linger in her regarding her sister’s passing.
However, once the typical horror elements begin to take over the plot, especially those normally found in slasher movies, the picture falls apart. One gets the impression that screenwriter Jeff Buhler has failed to find true inspiration and so he decides to utilize shortcuts as a substitute. The dead coming back to life should be a terrifying notion, especially if these beings are able to retain their memories and the ability to communicate. Already they are different from zombies who only wish to bite flesh and eat brains. Instead, there is more attention placed in the running around, the stabbings, and the struggles of getting to a weapon. It all just feels so tired and pointless.
There are watchable performances here by Clarke, Seimetz, and Lithgow. The actors who play husband and wife are believable in that the more recent changes in their lives are not easy for either of them. And yet they try to make it work. The widower, too, is a curious character. When he is finally invited for dinner, we feel his joy of being welcomed by the family, including the cat. However, the enthusiastic yet grounded performances still fail to save a screenplay lacking both strong vision and fresh execution. The entire work must be effective as a horror picture above all.
“Pet Sematary” is directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer in a most pedestrian fashion, especially when it comes to the scares. If anything, precisely because the work is both based on a book and a remake of an overrated would-be classic, every second should be dedicated to surpassing them. Instead, it appears to be content in delivering familiar tropes that lack imagination and tension. It feels like another cash grab.
Upstream Color (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
Kidnapped and hypnotized by a thief (Thiago Martins), Kris (Amy Seimetz) wakes up in her bed seeing worms crawling underneath her skin. She tries to take them out with a knife, but she is unable to get them all. Covered in self-inflicted wounds, Kris ends up seeking help from a nameless man (Andrew Sensenig) who owns a pig farm. Through a bizarre operation, he transfers the worms into a pig. Kris goes home and discovers that her life has been upheaved from normalcy. She is out of a job due to being gone for so long and all her money is gone. Later, Kris meets Jeff (Shane Carruth) on a train. They grab drinks. We learn he has gone through a similar ordeal.
“Upstream Color,” written and directed by Shane Carruth, tries to engage the audience through beautiful images but—do not be fooled—it is not a very good movie. For the most part, it feels too much like a work by a gifted student in film school rather than by a filmmaker who knows exactly what he wishes to communicate and how to deliver them without coming off like he is trying too hard to make the material appear insightful.
Some movies lean toward being experienced rather than being understood. Great movies show that the two need not be mutually exclusive. Despite visual acrobatics or pageantry, the concept is clear: there is meat to bite into, swallow, and digest. The entire work is worth rumination. Here, the picture lacks the meat. It does not give us enough good reasons to care for Kris. Sure, what she goes through is terrible but we never get a chance to feel close to her emotionally. When Jeff is added to the equation, we become hopeful that she will open up eventually. Instead, we watch her become more unstable. I found her whining unbearable. At one point I wondered if the pair should be together. Are we supposed to root for them to remain together?
I appreciated that the screenplay bothers to detail the specifics of the hypnosis. It is arguably the best sequence in the film because the subdued tone, the sense of danger, and the mystery are appropriate given what is happening to the main character. I found that the early images bore into my brain because later in the picture when the material works itself down to boredom, I caught myself thinking about Kris drinking water only after having finished a specific task, the page numbers of the book she must circle, and the voice providing instructions. I remembered being worried for her health given that she did not seem to be allowed to eat anything for several days.
The man who runs the pig farm is a curious character. Kris was not the first hypnotized person he has helped to proceed to lead a semblance of a normal life. It appears as though he possesses the ability to see into the lives of those people he has aided and check up on how they are doing. In addition, the humans and the pigs share a sort of psychic connection. Whatever happens to a pig has an effect to a human with respect to the worms’ former host. Though interesting on the surface, these are not explored in a fulfilling manner. We wish to look closer but we are always kept at arm’s length.
“Upstream Color” is defiantly insular. There is an audience for this kind of movie. They will defend it using words like “visionary,” “challenging,” or “lyrical.” I don’t pretend to be one of them. I have an admiration for movies that are willing to push the viewers into experiencing something new. Though the film has pieces that do work, I still found it shallow, boring at times, and way self-indulgent.
A Horrible Way to Die (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Sarah (Amy Seimetz) recently joined Alcoholics Anonymous. On her first day, which happens to be the third month of her sobriety, she meets Kevin (Joe Swanberg). He claims he wants to get to know her outside of AA. She admires his honesty and figures she can use a little bit of that positive quality in her life. The two go on a date and everything goes swimmingly. Meanwhile, Sarah’s ex-boyfriend, Garrick (AJ Bowen), escapes from prison. We learned that when he was still with Sarah, whenever they weren’t together, he killed to feed his addiction for flesh. His motivation to get out of prison, it seems, is to see his ex-girlfriend and claim her as his most priced victim.
Written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard, “A Horrible Way to Die” has some good ideas and rather solid twists before the closing chapter, but the muddled cinematography takes away the little power that the picture has going for it.
We spend a lot of personal time observing Sarah and Kevin. We watch them meet, exchange smiles out of politeness which soon changed into something genuine, go on their first date, and the first time they have sex. But the camera shakes so relentlessly and dizzyingly for no good reason whatsoever. It feels like we are watching a first take as the cameramen and director attempt to adjust the lighting and make sure that the microphones are in their proper places. By moving the camera in such a way, the connection between the characters and audiences are disrupted. Instead of engaging us in a flow, it becomes a difficult and frustrating watch. Because of its presentation, the material appears unprofessional.
Sarah has a lot of self-esteem issues which is rooted in her struggle against alcohol addiction and is perpetuated by news that her serial killer ex-boyfriend is on the loose. The camera should have been still so that we are allowed to look her in the eyes and infer some of the questions that might pop into her head. This is her journey and I wasn’t convinced that the filmmakers were aware of that. If they did, the least they could have done is to get the technical issues right so the audience can focus on the story.
The writing needs revision because it fails to incorporate two of Sarah’s monsters: the alcoholism and the ex-boyfriend. Although flashbacks are provided so that we can get a sense of our protagonist’s history, there is no effort from behind the camera to put them together in way that makes sense. Obviously, drugs can be a source of addiction but what are the similarities between a drug and a bad relationship? Instead of exploring this question, the filmmakers hands us random scenes like Sarah thinking about Garrick when she touches herself at night. What does that have to do with anything?
“A Horrible Way to Die” lacks a bridge between drama and horror/thriller so the emotions on screen feel like a sham. The whole charade would have been laughable, not just maddening, if it wasn’t such a frustrating chore to sit through.