I recently wrote an article about Pet Sematary, ahead of its theatrical release, in the Miami New Times. I had the chance to speak to both leads, Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz, who play parents to two young children in the horror movie based on the Stephen King novel. When I spoke over the phone with the actors while they were visiting Miami, I took a moment to compliment them both for other projects they have done. I commended Seimetz on the work she has done with Borscht Corporation (whose latest festival is due this spring). “I love shooting here,” she said. “I love the Borscht guys. I love what they do for Miami and Florida filmmaking.”
I also diverted to speak to Clarke about The Aftermath, a film I praised in my review (Death and sex make The Aftermath one of the hottest movies of the year), detouring from the popular opinion it is not a great movie. I straight up told him critics were getting it wrong. “You’re fuckin’ right there, dude. I totally agree. Excuse my language,” he responded, clearly energized. “There’s so much cynicism in understanding a love story movie today. People are just like … you know — go and review Captain Marvel,” a comment he added that cracked up Seimetz.
Clarke predicted it will be the same issue with Pet Sematary, a movie both actors approached with great sincerity. “There’s similarities with [Pet Sematary],” he said. “It’s very difficult in this world today for people to let a movie and a story in, but I thought, like in Pet Sematary, there’s a line that Amy improvised that I didn’t even know, in the ADR [Automated Dialog Replacement] where at the beginning of the film she says, ‘Oh, you know, the cat’s still in the car. We left the cat behind,’” and when I saw it, I didn’t even know [the line] was in there, but the whole audience laughed, very early on in the movie, and it just set the tone. It’s like with The Aftermath and a love story, people don’t know how to sit there and let it relax, what with this deep cynic sitting on our shoulder … I think it’s sad.”
The Stephen King book was first adapted into a movie in 1989. This new version, directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, changes which child dies in the movie. In the book and in the ‘80s movie directed Mary Lambert it’s the toddler (played in this film by twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) who dies. An animatronic puppet was used in the scenes following his resurrection. In this movie, it is the older, still young girl, Ellie (Jeté Laurence in marvelously creepy form) who dies and is resurrected by Clarke’s bereaved father Louis.
“It’s a logistical, make-sense change,” said Clarke. “It doesn’t lose anything, and what you gain is we can shoot the movie with a child, with a young girl rather than a doll because you can’t do this stuff with a 3-year-old. You’ll get shut down.”
Clarke and Seimetz note that the directors kept most of the special effects they used in film in the real world. There were also no puppets or CGI for the cat, the first of the family to be brought back from the dead after being buried in a mystical burial ground in the woods behind the family’s new home. Clarke said, “They made a choice to train these cats, to have them trained to keep it real. That ties into what this movie is. We’re not in a CGI world.”
“We did shoot in the real woods,” added Seimetz. “We have a real cat, Ellie is real. She’s not a doll. You don’t have to act with a doll … but that’s also what I think makes it really disturbing, this version of Pet Sematary … I think that horror audiences and people in cinema in general are getting so used to CG monsters that when you make it real and you have the horror come from something disturbing like real life, it actually does scare a little bit more.”
Clarke is well known as a fan of the book and has read it several times over the years. “What King does is keep it honest and relatable to us,” he said. “I mean some of these things are ridiculous and shocking. They go for the shock rather than something that’s deeply disturbing, and Pet Sematary works as a book and as a film because it’s so close. It feels like it’s close to the bone, all this. And the jump is crazy as it is. You can imagine yourself being there. I mean, what would I do? King is great at making us think about and ask the questions that we’re afraid of. Isn’t he? That’s why he works so well.”
As far as making that believable, Clarke said it calls for some acting chops. “So many times somebody comes in and delivers some news, and the person is told your mother died. That’s one look. Then somebody says, oh, you just won a million dollars, and it’s the same look. Just no reacting, no acting acting, and cool if it works for some people. It doesn’t work for me.”
Both he and Seimetz said they enjoyed the challenge of going to that place where death and love between the family clash so creepily. But there was a lot of affection between them during our conversation, with Clarke teasing her about stumbling over words and she about the possible mistranslation of his vocabulary (Clarke was born in Australia), particularly his choice word for being killed as “sacked.” Seimetz also has great affection for another of the film’s co-stars, John Lithgow, who she remembers first seeing in Harry and the Hendersons as a child). “He’s wonderful. He’s obviously extremely talented and tall, very tall,” she said of Lithgow. “I can’t talk about John Lithgow without beaming ear to ear because he’s just the loveliest, and also I’m such a fangirl, so there’s that.”
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To read more of my conversation with these actors on Pet Sematary, jump through the Miami New Times headline below:
Pet Sematary runs 101 minutes and is rated R. It’s playing pretty much everywhere now, after opening this past Thursday, April 5. Paramount Pictures invited us to a preview screening for the purpose of this interview.