Pet Sematary: Bloodlines review – David Duchovny excels in atmospheric prequel
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines charts the birth of the titular zombie graveyard, as well toll it took on the folk of Ludlow, Maine, at the tail-end of the 1960s. But while it’s heavy on atmosphere, this prequel is light on frights, and fails to match the power of its predecessors.
The 1989 Pet Sematary is a stone-cold horror classic, and the 2019 version is a solid scarer with a gangbusters ending. Bloodlines is a prequel to the latter, expanding on a story that Jud Crandall tells in Stephen King’s original book about a tragedy that befell his friend Timmy, as well as his own introduction to the ground that has a habit of turning the dead into malevolent living.
The film is subtitled ‘Bloodlines,’ in reference to the fact that the town of Ludlow enters your veins, making it difficult to leave. Plus there’s the familial curse that the town bestows on its inhabitants; one that’s passed down from generation to generation.
But it could just as easily be called ‘Origins,’ because as well as focussing on a group of youngsters being hit by the curse, it also details the very beginnings of the Pet Sematary, way back in the 17th century.
What is Pet Sematary: Bloodlines about?
Proceedings kick off in 1969, in “the cradle of Maine,” with young Jud Crenshaw giving back-story via voiceover for any newcomers. He explains that a Native American tribe built the Pet Sematary to call on animal spirits needed to protect them from an ancient evil in the woods. An evil that whispers to those who want to spend one more day with their departed loved ones. But – as the previous film so deftly illustrated – “sometimes dead is better.”
Having avoided the Vietnam draft on multiple occasions, Jud is leaving town – heading to Michigan with his girlfriend, to join the Peace Corps. But as his father states, Ludlow really is difficult to leave, and a series of unfortunate incidents block his path at every turn.
Jud’s childhood friend wasn’t so lucky. Timmy went to Vietnam, and has just returned via honorable discharge, with a Silver Star. But Timmy isn’t right. To modern eyes, it would look like PTSD. But this being a Pet Sematary movie, it quickly becomes clear that far fouler is afoot. And the ancient evil has been reawakened.
David Duchovny delivers a powerhouse performance
All of which means that Bloodlines starts somewhere in the middle of the story, rather than at the start. So the movie doesn’t go through the motions like so many horror sequels, with this Pet Sematary launching into the narrative rather than wasting time building up to it.
Timmy’s storyline also means there’s a juicy role for David Duchovny, who plays his monosyllabic father, Bill. It’s an understated performance, the character a man of few words, and even fewer emotions. But Duchovny sells it with his eyes, and demeanour, both of which hint at the ocean of grief bubbling beneath Bill’s surface.
Jackson White is also good as Jud, the weight of the world on his shoulders as he learns the truth about his town. And takes on the responsibility of protecting it by stopping the sickness from spreading. That said, he’s supposed to be a young version of the character John Lithgow played in the previous instalment, but that doesn’t quite ring true.
Bloodlines shows the origin of evil
As animals – and then humans – start to change, violence erupts, and loved ones turn on each other. Unfortunately, that’s when it feels like Bloodlines does go through the motions, with sequences in a hospital – and a swamp – looking like they could come from any zombie movie.
Indeed, the most interesting scenes are very specific to this franchise, flashing back to 1674, when English settlers arrive at the location of the soon-to-be Pet Sematary, where the earth is sour, and ominous signs surround them. They wake something very old – and very awful – in the ground, that whispers to those most vulnerable as it demands to be fed.
All of which is unlike anything previously seen in the series, and one wishes the film spent more time in such a fascinating place, to truly delve into the origin of this particular evil.
The Verdict – Is Pet Sematary: Bloodlines good?
Director Lindsey Anderson Beer – along with her co-screenwriter Jeff Buhler – has crafted a Pet Sematary movie that takes itself very seriously. The tone is downbeat and oppressive. While darkness frequently fills the screen.
Which is effective for the first hour of the movie, as the sins of the fathers play out amongst their offspring. Unfortunately, Bloodlines never manages to shift out of first gear, so when the climax approaches – and the ante should be upped – the film flatlines somewhat. Ending with a whimper when material like this demands a bloody bang.
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines review score – 3/5
Bloodlines is a serviceable prequel that expands on the Pet Sematary mythos in intriguing fashion, anchored by a deeply affecting David Duchovny performance.
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines was reviewed at Fantastic Fest, and debuts on Paramount+ on October 6, 2023. For more news and reviews from the festival, head here.