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Fantastic Fest 2023: Pet Sematary: Bloodlines Digs Up the Untold Story of Jud Crandall

On the set of Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Cr: Philippe Bosse/Paramount Players

When I looked through the Fantastic Fest lineup and saw that Pet Sematary: Bloodlines was premiering at the festival, I immediately knew I wanted to review this film. I’m one of the few people who liked the 2019 Pet Sematary remake, and truth be told, I actually think it’s better than the 1989 version. So naturally, I just had to check out Paramount’s new prequel, and even though horror prequels have an even worse track record than sequels, I couldn’t wait to see what chills this new movie had in store for me.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines was directed and co-written by Lindsey Anderson Beer, and it stars Jackson White, Forrest Goodluck, Jack Mulhern, Henry Thomas, Natalie Alyn Lind, Isabella Star LaBlanc, Samantha Mathis, Pam Grier, and David Duchovny. The film is set in 1969, and it tells the story of how Jud Crandall first learned about the horrific evil that lurks in the unassuming town of Ludlow, Maine.

When Pet Sematary: Bloodlines begins, Jud is about to leave town for the Peace Corps with his girlfriend Norma, but as they’re driving out to this new chapter of their lives, they hit an animal on the road. This seemingly freak accident forces the couple to remain in Ludlow, and when they head back home, they realize that something isn’t quite right with their friend Timmy.

The guy recently returned home from Vietnam, but he’s not acting like himself. At first, Jud isn’t sure what to make of his friend’s odd behavior, but for anyone who knows the Pet Sematary mythology, it’s clear that Timmy didn’t really get the honorable discharge his father claimed he received. Instead, he actually died in the war, and when his father buried him in the cursed ground behind the animal cemetery, what came back wasn’t exactly the Timmy his friends and family knew and loved.

A man in a car
Jackson White as Jud Crandall appearing in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Cr: Philippe Bosse/Paramount Players

On paper, that probably sounds like it has the potential to be a cool new chapter in the Pet Sematary universe, but unfortunately, the execution isn’t nearly up to par. Most noticeably, the characters in this movie are just super bland. Seriously, aside from a couple of moments here and there, nobody in this film shows much emotion for the first half of its runtime.

I first noticed it in Jud, and I thought it was an acting issue. But as the story progressed, I realized that everybody in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines was giving similarly dry performances, so it had to be more than just bad acting. It’s most likely a direction issue, and it prevented me from forming any sort of connection with these characters.

The only exception here is Timmy’s father, who’s played really well by David Dochovny. He feels like the kind of person who would be cold and emotionless, so that vibe totally works for him. But for everyone else, it’s the wrong choice. It makes the characters totally unlikable, so like I said, I found myself pretty apathetic towards them and their story.

To be fair, the cast does come to life a bit in the second half of Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, but by that point, it’s too little too late. I had already lost interest in these characters, so nothing short of a bonkers change of pace could’ve gotten me back on board.

On top of the weak characters, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines also has some pretty dull horror. Granted, it’s not terrible, and if the characters had been better, it might’ve even worked. But since I wasn’t emotionally invested in the story, the horror needed to be great to win me over. And unfortunately, it simply wasn’t.

People walking in a field
Isabella Star LaBlanc as Donna and Forrest Goodluck as Manny appearing in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Cr: Philippe Bosse/Paramount Players

In fact, I’d even say it feels a lot like the characters–bland. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a third Pet Sematary movie, and unlike the 2019 remake, this one doesn’t put any fun new touches on the horror. The only difference is that it’s on a much larger scale. It’s an adult instead of a child, and the reanimated villain terrorizes an entire town instead of just a few people.

Now, like I said before, on paper, that sounds like it has the potential to expand the concept in a really cool way, kind of like how Aliens expanded on the core concept of Alien. But unfortunately, the execution ends up being pretty dull. The scares all follow the same cliched patterns we’ve seen countless times before, so the film has a very “been there, done that” feel to it.

That being said, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. The filmmakers do try to deepen the Pet Sematary mythology a bit, so it’s not entirely the “same old same old.” For example, in this movie, the only way to kill the creatures that come back from the cursed ground is to target their eyes, and as far as I can remember, that’s a new addition to the lore. But it’s not an interesting addition, and the other new touches are similarly lackluster.

So at the end of the day, the horror in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is passable at best, and when you combine that with the poor characters, it loses any effectiveness it might’ve had. It’s just a bland horror film all around, so I’m sad to report that I walked away pretty disappointed.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest on September 23, and it’s set to hit Paramount+ on October 6.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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