Spring Break afforded me the chance to get to the theater several times, so I thought I’d check out some scares: Jordan Peele’s sophomore effort “Us” and “Pet Sematary,” the second iteration of Stephen King’s classic novel.
Peele’s first film, “Get Out,” was a revelation to the horror genre. By trading traditional scares for a more deeply, unsettling dread, “Get Out” is a masterful piece of transcendent social commentary. With “Us,” Peele sandwiches the commentary among layers of much more visceral, primal carnage.
The story begins as a family of four goes on a getaway to Santa Cruz. A typical horror director would wait five or ten minutes at the most to begin the madness. Instead, Peele starts us off with about 25 minutes of world-building story. It is only then that the Wilsons meet another family of four who turn out to be their doppelgängers.
Winston Duke plays husband Gabe with a nervous humor that breaks some of the tension for the audience. Frequent flashbacks to the childhood of mother Adelaide (played in the present with stirring discomfort by Lupita Nyong’o) show us reasons for her extreme trepidation about visiting Santa Cruz and its iconic Boardwalk. When the doppelgängers show up, hers gives hints that the terror they bring is Adelaide’s fault.
As each family member does battle with the respective double, Peele begins to unravel the message they bring.
Unlike with “Get Out,” however, Peele does not spend much time on any specific social commentary – opting instead to let the beautiful camera work and cinematography ratchet up the terror. An unfortunate expository monologue at the end dulls some of the denouement, yet “Us” still works as an original horror film.
On the subject of originality in the horror genre, “Pet Sematary” does not qualify. King’s novel came out in 1983, and Mary Lambert directed an above-average 1989 film. And now, Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer bring us another version.
Unlike “Us,” “Pet Sematary” spends very little time before we see the reason for its title. A family of four, with their cat, makes its way from Boston to Maine to get away from the crazy life. Within five minutes, 8-year-old Ellie (Jete Laurence) finds some local kids engaged in a funeral procession to the pet cemetery.
Ellie has a juvenile obsession with death, asking questions and getting differing answers from mom Rachel (Amy Seimetz) and dad Louis (Jason Clarke). Elderly neighbor Jud (John Lithgow, relishing the role) warns Ellie and the family away from the cemetery and everything else that might be in the woods.
The Jud and Ellie pairing is an interesting relationship, but the directors unfortunately do not spend enough time on it. Kolsch and Widmyer nail all the familiar beats until they get to some of the major plot points.
Changing things up is good, especially by the third version of a story. Yet the directors seem in such a rush to get to the ending, they miss great opportunities to explore latter parts of the story in detail. The ending would feel more earned if the film were about 15 minutes longer.
“Pet Sematary” B-
Jeff Mellinger is a screen writer and film buff. He holds a BA in Film Studies and an MFA in film production. He lives in Concord. Email comments to email@example.com.