Reviewed by Alicia Glass
In 1969 a hereditary evil secret hidden by the town of Ludlow, Maine, is suddenly exposed when a grieving father uses the forbidden pet sematary powers to bring his beloved son back to life.
Meet beefcake farmboy Judson Crandall (Jackson White), freshly graduated and really wanting to do something with his life, to protect and serve and help people. The draft for the Vietnam war still floats around Ludlow like a dire whispered threat, though Jud’s father Dan Crandall (Henry Thomas) has pulled every last string he can to make sure that never happens to his precious son. Dan really does want his son to escape the cursed town of Ludlow, but the all-important why doesn’t come until later.
Somehow, Jud’s all-American-girlfriend Norma (Natalie Alyn Lind) has convinced Jud to join the freaking Peace Corps with her. And on this day, as Norma and Jud prepare to leave Ludlow for hopefully a good long time, some very weird, freaky, and then very bad sh*t starts happening.
Everyone who knows about Jud and Norma’s reason for leaving generally scoffs at the idea, though they all are happy if not envious of the idea of finally leaving Ludlow for whatever reason, and none more so than Jud’s father Dan. But an eerily familiar long-haul road has a usually ordinary dog acting very strangely, and nothing would do for a pair of do-gooders but to see Hendrix the dog home.
Home happens to be the Baterman place, where Bill Baterman (David Duchovny) informs Jud and Norma that his son Timmy (Jack Mulhern) is suddenly back from the war, decorated with a Silver Star and everything. (It’s a piece of irony that no one mentions that the Silver Star, is a medal awarded for singular acts of valor over a brief period, such as one or two days, and the potential implications of that.) And we the audience already know, from the very first opening scene, exactly what is making Timmy act in the murderous way he is.
Of course Jud has a history with Timmy, along with Manny Rivers (Forrest Goodluck) and with his sister Donna (Isabella LaBlanc), the youngling representatives of the fairly large Mi’kmaq Indian tribal presence apparent here in Ludlow. Donna recently has been plagued by ominous dreams, causing her to make spirit masks as an almost instinctual response, and of course worrying her brother. But then, the Mi’kmaq have been here in Ludlow for much longer than these cowardly white men, and have kept a history of what they call the Mouth in the woods.
So yes, Timmy has risen from the grave (not that he was actually buried) and is wandering Ludlow unchecked in an always-hungry state, much to the dismay of everyone but especially his beleaguered father. Hendrix the dog attacks Norma, while Timmy attacks Donna like a zombie plague, getting her to rise and in turn attack others, and all across Ludlow the adults hiding secrets about that thing in the woods are starting to get very twitchy and nervous.
It’s another piece of irony that the actual history of Ludlow is so easily obtained, not from Jud’s dad or Timmy’s dad or even the Mi’kmaq elders, but from the very-drunk Priest (Vincent Leclerc) at the local church, who damns the elders for their shortsightedness at actually keeping the history of Ludlow preserved. And we the audience are treated to a fully rendered historical sequence, of settlers in 1674 led by Ludlow himself, trying to settle fertile land in Mi’kmaq territory. Ludlow falls victim to the “sour ground” and devolves into a cannibalistic ghoul, much to the dismay of his men, and of course the poor Mi’kmaq folk he ate. The founding fathers of the territory all swear an oath to protect the town from whatever curse Ludlow may have brought upon himself, though they, with no thought to irony whatsoever apparently, name the town Ludlow so they would all never forget.
The Mouth in the woods, past the separating breakwall Jud’s grandfather built, never forgot either, and knows the names of every last founding father that tried desperately to contain the cursed whispering and murderous tendencies – Benson, Baterman, Crandall, just to name a few …
Time is running out and the zombie hunger plague is spreading, Norma is all trussed up for the sacrifice, and Jud has convinced his dad and the other “elders” of the town to go after the source, which in theory is Timmy himself, with all their big ole guns and quite limited knowledge of monsters and magic and curses. And finally, after much confrontation and useless shooting not in the eyes, Jud is forced to contend with the fact that his entire family is cursed, and the real legacy his father and family left him was the responsibility and stewardship of the Mouth in the woods, the pet sematary, and the town of Ludlow itself. Thanks a lot, grandpa.
So apparently this prequel Pet Sematary film is meant to tie into the Pet Sematary remake of 2019, which, hey, it would’ve been nice to know that before I watched it. The spirit of the original 1989 version is rather lacking, and that may be why. Young Jud Crandall is practically an emotionless poppet as he races from catastrophe to disaster, his reactions are minute and the one time he does pop off and start yelling, at Timmy so it is perfectly valid, he’s practically pleading rather than screaming. Jud’s no coward and the film seemed to kind of imply he actually wanted to go serve in the military, but most of his reactions to the grotesquerie of the zombie cannibals, the Mouth in the woods, and even his own families’ involvement in it are disbelief rather than anything resembling protective reactions.
Even the horror isn’t terribly horror-ific, with much of the gore being glossed over, the camera panned away right as the blood splashes and the cannibalism is largely implied, but understood, so kind of disappointing. The makeup effects for the cursed ones is pretty good, and the one role that actually inspired fear and dread in this sad, spoon-fed tale of generational woe, was Mulhern as Timmy Baterman.
For the backstory of the town of Ludlow, Maine, and the legend of the pet sematary contained therein, catch Pet Sematary Bloodlines on Paramount+ now!