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Pet Sematary: Bloodlines – Film Review

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Pet Sematary - Bloodlines
Pet Sematary – Bloodlines Film Review

Even minor success as a horror movie will net you a sequel. This isn’t a new thing: I have a friend who’s just done a 24-hour marathon of Amityville movies for charity, and he still didn’t get through them all. They’re so cheap that even the vague whiff of success will be enough to get the greenlight for a sequel flashing. 

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is an odd one, in that it sits between the two stools of horror sequels. On one stool are films like the Conjuring saga, where the initial movies were so profitable, and the hunger for more movies was so insatiable, that they can afford to employ the best actors and directors. On the other stool is Leprechaun 4: In Space. 

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines comes off the back of Pet Sematary, the 2019 re-attempt at bringing the Stephen King novel back to our screens. It was, in all honesty, a drab and unremarkable affair that at least had some decent actors putting in a shift. Jon Lithgow is incapable of a bad performance, and Jason Clarke is always good value (see Oppenheimer). But a sequel? We’d have guessed that Pet Semetary barely squeaked through with a profit. 

Wrong! Pet Semetary made a reasonable $113 million off a $21 million budget, which is what Hollywood would call a success. It’s the reason we’re sat here reviewing Pet Sematary: Bloodlines – a prequel that explores the origins of Jon Lithgow’s character in the 2019 movie. Our initial reaction was that we didn’t particularly need that, but hey, we’re here. 

Now, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines sits between two stools because it’s got some B-list game, even if it doesn’t have the original writers or directors. David Duchovny, Pam Grier and Henry Thomas (perennially Elliot from E.T.) are here, while the younger, more unknown actors are clearly a talented bunch. Jackson White as Jud Crandall and Isabella LaBlanc as Donna Rivers both stood out to us as actors with a strong future. Plus, there’s some artistry to at least the first half of the movie. There are some macabre moments in the opening, alongside some dreamlike sequences at a garden party. 

So, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines doesn’t quite tumble into the bargain bin, like a lot of horror sequels. It’s not quite cinema fare – we don’t remember this hitting our local Cineworld – but it’s close. 

In terms of story, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is set in 1969, fifty years before the first film. Judson Crandall is leaving small-town Ludlow, making him the first of the Crandall family to get the hell out of Dodge. The family is proud of him, but there’s some resentment around town, particularly among his friends like Manny Rivers (Forrest Goodluck). Their resentment is fringed with jealousy that he is joining the Peace Corps with his girlfriend, Norma (Natalie Alyn Lind), when they can’t. 

As Judson is about to leave Ludlow, an old resident comes back. Timmy Baterman (Jack Mulhern) returns home from Vietnam to stay with his dad, ol’ Mulder himself, David Duchovny. But Timmy is looking a little worse of wear – like death warmed up, you could say. Timmy is an old friend of Judson’s, so Jud pops over to say hi. But Timmy isn’t much of a conversationalist any more, and things escalate to the point where Jud is unable to leave Ludlow.

This first half of Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is surprisingly entertaining. The film knows how to foster a sense of dread, as it becomes unclear what’s going down. Are we dealing with just Timmy, a growing cast of enemies, or something more pervasively supernatural? There’s intrigue in the way that the locals are reacting to events: David Duchovny is proper shifty, while Judson’s father and other long-term residents share knowing glances with each other. There’s a conspiracy here, and we were secretly hoping for some Hot Fuzz-style secret society. We were bracing for revelations and a horror-filled denouement. 

But, as horror fans will tell you, payoffs and endings are some of the hardest things to get right. And Pet Sematary: Bloodlines gets it wrong on such a monumental scale that you can visibly pinpoint the moment where everyone sort of gives up. The script, director and actors all pack up shop.

There’s an attempt to dive into the origins of the malevolent power behind the Pet Semetary, but it’s so superficial that you end up learning nothing of note. A flashback to Ludlow’s original settlers only repeats what is happening now in the modern day, so you get the debatable joys of seeing the action all over again. Worse still, this sequence sits within some bloated exposition, as the action effectively gets paused so someone can explain the movie to you for twenty minutes.

But the death-blow for Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is how all of the goodwill from the acting, the directing and the doomy tone gets cashed in for some people running around with guns. The slow-build culminates in a noisy sequence from an action movie, and not a particularly good one. Enemies suddenly become invulnerable and omniscient, effectively teleporting from place to place. Good guys make decisions that even a frantic, panicked person would never make. One character must be made of Play-doh, as no human being could possibly be killed in the manner that they are. 

It just doesn’t line up. A psychological slasher movie becomes a trashy action movie against super-powered zombies. There’s barely a dead pet in sight. A well-scripted, well-acted movie becomes egregiously sloppy and generic. You can see the realisation in the actor’s eyes: this isn’t the classy vehicle that they thought they had hopped into. It’s a cut-and-shut, with the back end being the quality level of Leprechaun 4: In Space. 

Before we pressed play, we couldn’t care less about an origin movie of Jon Lithgow’s character in 2019’s Pet Sematary. But the first hour of Pet Sematary: Bloodlines made us care. We mentally re-categorised the film: this wasn’t straight-to-DVD fodder. It was at least as good as the film it was building on. 

But then the exposition hit, followed by a final act that fell through our fingers like wet mud. It was staggeringly generic. We mentally recategorised it again. Pet Sematary: Bloodlines was, in fact, the straight-to-DVD film we thought it was.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Some cracking acting
  • First hour shows huge promise
  • Well shot
Cons:
  • Last act is dreadful by-the-numbers stuff
  • Deaths aren’t particularly inventive
  • Where are all the evil pets?
Info:
  • Purchased by TXH
  • Running time and release date - 1hr 29mins | 2023
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Some cracking acting</li> <li>First hour shows huge promise</li> <li>Well shot</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Last act is dreadful by-the-numbers stuff</li> <li>Deaths aren’t particularly inventive</li> <li>Where are all the evil pets?</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Purchased by TXH</li> <li>Running time and release date - 1hr 29mins | 2023 </ul>Pet Sematary: Bloodlines - Film Review
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