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Non-Review Review: Pet Sematary

The horror in Pet Sematary is primal and ancient, both literally and figuratively.

The tropes that power Pet Sematary were already familiar and old-fashioned by the time that Stephen King published the book more than a quarter of a century ago. Indeed, there are extended stretches of the novel when Pet Sematary feels like a game of Stephen-King-related mad-libs: a dash of paternal anxiety here, a sense of existential dread about the American wilderness there, a familiar older character to provide exposition thrown in, and a climax where everything gets very brutal very quickly.

“You just take a left at the Pet Seminary.”

Even beyond the sense of Pet Sematary as a collection of familiar Stephen King elements blended together, the novel riffed on familiar genre elements. There was more than a faint whiff of The Monkey’s Paw to the basic plot, the story of a seemingly wondrous device that could resurrect the dead only for the person responsible to realise that their beloved had come back “wrong” – or, as Jud helpfully summarises, that “sometimes dead is better.” (The novel alluded to this more directly with the story of Timmy Baterman, which is consigned to a newspaper clipping in this adaptation.)

Writer Jeff Buhler, along with directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, clearly understand that appeal. The script for Pet Sematary makes a number of major alterations to the book’s plot, but most are logical and organic, rooted in the realities and necessities of cinematic storytelling more than the desire to change things for the sake of changing them. For the most part, Pet Sematary revels in the old-fashioned blend of Americana and horror that defines so much of King’s work, the mounting sense of dread and the decidedly pulpy sensibility.

The purr-fect villain.

Pet Sematary only really runs into trouble in its third act, and this is arguably a problem that is carried over from the source material despite the major branching choices that the script makes leading up to that point. The issues with the third act are not those of character or plot, but instead of tempo and genre. In a weird way, these third act issues make Pet Sematary feel like a spiritually faithful adaptation, carrying over something of the essence of the book, for better and for worse.

Pet Sematary is at is strongest when building mood and mounting dread, when offering its own shading on the familiar iconography of a haunted and untamed wilderness. Pet Sematary is at its weakest when it is forced to shape that dread into a more conventional horror movie climax.

Shades of grey.

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Non-Review Review: The Aftermath

This film was seen as part of the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2019. Given the high volumes of films being shown and the number of reviews to be written, these may end up being a bit shorter than usual reviews.

The Aftermath starts with a fascinating premise.

Unfolding in the immediate wake of the Second World War, The Aftermath finds Rachael Morgan joining her husband Lewis Morgan in Hamberg for the British Occupation of the city. Tensions are running high. Most of the city lies in ruins, bodies still being pulled from the rubble. Both sides are nursing old wounds that threaten to fester. Rachel finds herself confronting these wounds even more acutely than she expected. When the Morgans move into a stately home on the outskirts of the city, Lewis suggests that the German family might remain there rather than being relocated to “the camps.” As a result, the two sides find themselves living under the same roof; British and German, occupied and occupier, winner and loser.

This is an intensely charged set-up, and one with a lot of potential. It is one thing to fight a war, it is another to end it. Reconciliation is always a challenge, particularly when dealing with a catastrophe on the scale of the Second World War. Given the trauma that both sides inflicted upon one another and the scars that still sting, forcing a British and German family to live in close proximity while those wounds are still fresh should lead to incredible drama. What is it like to surrender one’s home to an occupying force, but to linger there as a guest – or maybe a ghost? What is like to be surrounded by a people who were once bent on conquest and domination, but now find themselves at the mercy of the nations they tried to subjugate?

The Aftermath doesn’t really answer these questions. Indeed, it often struggles to articulate them. Instead, it offers a clichéd romantic triangle melodrama against this backdrop, offering a decidedly trashy narrative within the trappings of prestige. The Aftermath has an engaging central performance from Keira Knightley, but it suffers from a lack of chemistry between its three leads and a truly terrible management of tone. The Aftermath aspires to be a story of a simmering cold war, but is completely lacking any spark.

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Who We Are In The Dark: Zero Dark Thirty & Torture…

That Zero Dark Thirty should come under fire for its use and portrayal of torture is not surprising. The film deserves to spark debate about how we respond to these sorts of threats, and critically examine our claim to the moral high ground. However, the debate seems overly simplistic. It has been suggested that the controversy over torture cost director Kathryn Bigelow a Best Director nomination, and that’s a shame. The fact she’s felt to the need to respond to these relatively shallow commentaries is less than heartening.

Zero Dark Thirty has a lot to say about torture. It’s a lot of thoughtful and insightful and nuanced stuff, and Zero Dark Thirty actually gets to the nub of the issue, very clearly condemning the culture of “enhanced interrogation”, in a way that is much more effective than any of the commentators seem to realise.

zerodarkthirty4

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