'Pet Sematary: Bloodlines' review: A truly lifeless Stephen King prequel

Some things should stay buried.
By Belen Edwards  on 
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A bearded man looks in a mirror, and sees a young man with blood around his mouth standing behind him.
David Duchovny and Jack Mulhern in "Pet Sematary: Bloodlines." Credit: Philippe Bosse/Paramount Players

Like the uncanny animals and humans in Stephen King's Pet Sematary, prequel film Pet Sematary: Bloodlines feels like something that died, was buried, and then resurrected worse off than before.

The movie returns to the town of Ludlow, Maine, and the ancient burial ground nearby, which can bring humans and animals back to life. As tempting as such power can seem, these burials have devastating consequences. The resurrected beings return with a bloodthirsty streak, acting as a vessel for some greater evil.

In Pet Sematary, we learn that the last human to be resurrected was soldier Timmy Baterman, who went on to terrorize Ludlow. That story is just a smaller cautionary tale in the much larger arc of the novel, but Bloodlines expands it into an entire movie. As admirable an exercise in adaptation as that is, Bloodlines lacks the genuine revelations — or even scares — to justify its own existence.

How does Pet Sematary: Bloodlines connect to the original?

A young man in the driver's seat of a car.
Jackson White in "Pet Sematary: Bloodlines." Credit: Philippe Bosse/Paramount Players

Bloodlines retells the Timmy Baterman story with a focus on Jud Crandall's connection to it. In Pet Sematary, Jud's a wise old man who knows everything there is to know about the sinister secrets of the burial ground. But in Bloodlines, he's a hunk (Jackson White) just looking to get out of Ludlow. It's 1969, and for Jud, escape from Ludlow means joining the Peace Corps. For others in town, though, the only way they'll be leaving Ludlow is if they're drafted to serve in the Vietnam War.

One of these drafted Ludlow citizens is Timmy (Jackson Mulhern), who returns from war a different man — although "different" is certainly an understatement. In addition to disemboweling and eating wild animals in his spare time, Timmy's taken to accosting people around town, telling them their deepest secrets in monologues that sound more like coffee house spoken-word performances than frightening warnings. It's not long before his erratic behavior catches the eye of his former best friends Jud and Manny (Forrest Goodluck). As the two set out to discover what's wrong with Timmy, they uncover the sinister secrets of the burial ground — and of the founding of Ludlow itself.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is all about family.

A young man and woman walk through a sunflower field.
Isabella Star LaBlanc and Forrest Goodluck in "Pet Sematary: Bloodlines." Credit: Philippe Bosse/Paramount Players

As its title suggests, Bloodlines interests itself in family ties, focusing on Jud, Timmy, and Manny's own families. Portrayals of these connections play out with varying degrees of success. Timmy's grieving father Bill (David Duchovny) should be the conflicted heart of the film, but we barely get a sense of his and Timmy's relationship prior to Timmy's return from Vietnam. That lack of development means that Bill's catastrophic decision — one that sets the entirety of Bloodlines in motion — falls flat. What should feel like a grave emotional turning point instead feels like the film going through the motions to get started.

Another father-son relationship on display is that of Jud and his dad Danny (Henry Thomas). Danny is extremely protective of Jud, but also of his own secrets. Unfortunately, the build-up to these secrets and their eventual reveal are as underdeveloped as Bill and Timmy's relationship, wasting cast members like Thomas and Pam Grier. It's a shame, as Jud and Danny's relationship is the most linked to Bloodlines' central theme: how our ancestors' actions reverberate from the past to the present.

The only relationship that truly succeeds here is that between Manny and his sister Donna (Isabella Star LaBlanc). Aside from the two constantly reminding us they're siblings with stilted "I'm your big sister, you're my little brother" dialogue, there's a deep care in their every scene, especially in those where they encourage each other to leave Ludlow to do something bigger. Both Manny and Donna are non-King characters, giving them more freedom story-wise than people like Bill and Timmy.

As Native American characters, Manny and Donna's presence in Bloodlines also looks to rectify Pet Sematary's reliance on the "Native American burial ground" trope. But the film's reckoning with its own source material is half-baked at best, barely taking the time to examine Donna and Manny's relationship with Ludlow's dark secrets beyond Donna's spooky dreams-turned-visions.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines just isn't scary.

A sickly dog walking down a road.
A not-so-scary dog in "Pet Sematary: Bloodlines." Credit: Philippe Bosse/Paramount Players

With foreboding dreams, reanimated corpses, and Stephen King himself as inspiration, you'd expect Bloodlines to at least deliver some decent horror. Yet even the film's scares are devoid of any weight. Spooky dogs and animal masks can only do much without a well-executed story behind them.

In addition to these unsettling, yet ultimately empty, images, Bloodlines chops itself to hell and back. Frenetic editing and jump scares become substitutes for any real horror. The film's over-reliance on deafening smash cuts is particularly egregious, as a technique meant to jar you out of your seat becomes rote. If you were to take a drink every time a loud transition cut a scene short, you'd be on your way to the Pet Sematary yourself.

These problems with editing extend to the overall arc of Bloodlines too. From scene to scene, the film feels totally disjointed, with characters acting without any legitimate motivation beyond, "this is what the film needs us to do next." That attitude is especially clear with Bill: Apart from the prologue and the occasional spooky conversation with Jud, the film relegates Bill to the periphery of the film until the third act. There, he makes a baffling turn that simply does not fit with the rest of Bloodlines, rendering the finale more confusing than thrilling.

With all its hasty scares and implied character work, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is a film too scared to let anything build. It floats fascinating ideas about atoning for the sins of your ancestors, but it barely follows through. It works to expand on King's mythos, but does so in the most predictable way possible. Worst of all, it toys with the devastation of grief, but it only winds up scratching the surface of a much deeper grave.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines was reviewed out of its world premiere at 2023's Fantastic Fest. It hits Paramount+ Oct. 6.

Topics Film

A woman in a white sweater with shoulder-length brown hair.
Belen Edwards
Entertainment Reporter

Belen Edwards is an Entertainment Reporter at Mashable. She covers movies and TV with a focus on fantasy and science fiction, adaptations, animation, and more nerdy goodness.

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