In ‘Pet Sematary’, Jason Clarke Plays a Good Dad Raising a Bad Kid
We all want the best for our kids, even when they are re-animated monsters with a lust for blood.
Pet Sematary isn’t scary because cats come back from the dead or because zombie children try to murder their parents. The movie is scary because it explores the most horrific experience a father can endure: moving your family across the country. I moved my family to Maine last year, which made watching the new Pet Sematary remake triggering as hell, specifically the parts of the movie that dig into the socioeconomics of transplantation. But here’s the thing about that: Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), the dad at the center of the story, is pretty much the guy I tried and failed to become when I moved to Vacationland. He’s one of the few good dads in the Stephen King multiverse, which makes his side of the story worth dwelling on.
Here’s the deal (spoilers coming at you): Louis Creed, a normal dude, relocates his family from Boston (Chicago in the book) to the fictionalized town of Ludlow, Maine. He and his wife Rachel have decided that too much city living has been bad for the emotional health of their family. Louis befriends a depressing neighbor named Jud. Old Jud tells Louis about a spot just beyond a creepy, and literal, pet cemetery, where you can bring people and pets back to life if you re-bury them a certain way. So, when the family cat dies, Louis decides to bring the cat back to life to be nice to his kids.
Up to this point in the story, Louis is crushing it. He’s making friends — albeit weird ones — and making smart decisions about the hazards of raising kids in a big city. The decision to bring the cat back from the dead is not only selfless but indicative of personal growth. Even though Louis’s wife believes in heaven and hell, Louis is a man of science. Still, he tries, which is chill. (I have a hard time compromising about the way the bookshelves are arranged in the living room of my house so I admire Louis for reconciling his belief system with new evidence). This guy is a philosophical giant, a truly original dad thinker.
All of this leads us to the no-brainer decision by Louis that really drives Pet Sematary, his choice to bring his daughter back to life. Now, up until this point, you can tell that I’m kidding around a little bit, but I’m going to be a little serious for a second: If parents were presented with the opportunity to bring back a child who died tragically, everyone would do it. Everyone. Which is, why, thankfully, Pet Sematary is make-believe and not a documentary, because if the powers of the Little God Swamp were real, there would be so many lawsuits and court rulings. I can’t even think about the parking.
Obviously, none of this turns out well for Louis or his family, at least superficially. In the original novel and the 1989 movie, Louis’s son is brought back to from the dead and is a complete prick. In the new movie, it’s his daughter who gets the zombie treatment, and she literally stabs everyone to death. In fact, at the end of the new movie, Louis’s entire family are turned into demon zombies. So, clearly Louis fucked-up, right?
Wrong. By the end of the new movie, Louis’s family is still a family. Yes, they’re all demon zombies who can no longer comb their hair properly, but the point is that Louis kept them together. This is what a good dad does. He makes decisions that optimize for the family over the individual. Louis is a very good dad in this regard. And also, even as a weird demon zombie, a pretty decent dude.
He’s not a creepy old loser like Jud, living next door, afraid of death, or worse, the undead. Instead, Louis is a dad who lived with his decisions to reverse death. He dies because of it, but in the world of Pet Sematary, that’s actually not the worst thing. In fact, I’d argue that by the end of the movie, Louis’s demon zombie family has a much bigger concern than death: They’re going to have to move again.
Pet Sematary is out now in wide release in theaters everywhere.