Fantastic Fest 2023 – Pet Sematary: Bloodlines and The Deep Dark

Fantastic Fest 2023 – Pet Sematary: Bloodlines and The Deep Dark

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines – dir. Lindsey Beer

Pet Sematary is a top-tier Stephen King novel. Pet Sematary is a top-tier film adaptation. Pet Sematary 2 is a top-tier sequel to the film adaptation. Pet Sematary (2019) is a lukewarm remake that kinda misses the point of the whole thing. Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is a pointless prequel to the remake that ostensibly aims to expand upon the Pet Sematary mythology, but doesn’t really do much to that end. It’s a shame considering that the source novel actually teases a fair amount of the expanded mythology, leaving it ripe for exploration.

Bloodlines follows the early life of Jud Crandall, the older neighbor to the doomed family at the center of the original tale. He’s the first to utter the famous catchphrase “sometimes, dead is better, and oh how right he turns out to be. Here, Jud is a hunky young man (Jackson White) with a super hot fiancé (Natalie Alyn Lind) with whom he’s about to leave Ludlow and join the Peace Corps. Jud was able to avoid fighting in Vietnam on account of his family’s connections to the town brass (the Crandalls are one of Ludlow’s founding families), a freedom which understandably saddles him some level of guilt. His father (Henry Thomas) is eager to see his boy leave town (we all know why), but circumstances draw the boy back, just as it become clear that his childhood friend Timmy might not be the same Timmy who went to war (you can surely guess why he’s…different).

What follows is an extremely basic horror film that mixes stalk-and-slash elements with flashbacks into Ludlow’s history, complete with multiple instances of a truck suddenly speeding into frame, making all of us say “ah yes, just like the truck that runs over the kid in the original movie.” Timmy is on a rampage, while the townsfolk (including a game Pam Grier) try to stop his carnage while also preventing Ludlow’s supernatural history from coming out into the light.

Despite the aimless nature of the film, a few sequences find effectiveness due to wickedly strong direction. Beer finds a fluidity in her camerawork that never fails to unsettle, and short of a few instances where the gray sludge of nighttime digital filmmaking takes over, there’s a ton of striking and spooky imagery. Make no mistake, Beer is going to make a killer horror movie one day, but it’ll need a much better script.

I can’t confirm whether or not this is the case, but the script of Bloodlines feels as if it were adapted from something much larger. Similar to the recent remake of Firestarter, which was a failed pilot that was cut into a movie, Bloodlines feels as if it were mined from a season’s worth of scripts. And if this were indeed the case, a full season of prequelized Pet Sematary lore would be very much my bag, and this cast would be ideal (is Henry Thomas ever not crushing it?). But as it is, the film feels simultaneously over-stuffed and truncated, always in such a rush to get to the next plot development that it barely has room to breathe, and fails at successfully prequelizing, well, anything. A few tiny script tweaks and the film we have could be divorced from the Pet Sematary mythology entirely.

Still, it moves quickly and never wears out its welcome — far from the worst way to kill some time at a film festival. But I suspect this one will work better at home, streaming on Paramount Plus, which is exactly what it was designed for.

So yeah, it’ll do, but while the OG film and novel haunted me for weeks, the only thing haunting about Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is how much David Duchovny looks like Walter Matthau these days.

The Deep Dark – dir. Mathieu Turi

Since The Descent already exists, anyone who attempts a cave monster movie has their work cut out for them. In order to even hold a candle to what was, in my humble opinion, the best application of the concept ever, any filmmakers interested in doing their own cave monster flick have to really step their game up. If I’m being honest, I didn’t even plan to catch The Deep Dark air Fantastic Fest, I just found myself attending it and absorbing the air conditioning when the standby line for a different screening failed to grant me admittance.

Call it festival magic or simple dumb luck, but my random attendance of The Deep Dark was the best possible end game. Not only does it successfully hold a candle to The Descent (almost literally — the film is lit solely by the torches and headlamps of the central cast), but it forges its own identity and delivers one of the best creature features of recent memory. Scary, intense, and with a great sense of geography, Mathieu Turi’s unique monster flick is one of the best and most entertaining movies of this year’s Fantastic Fest.

The setting is an inherently dangerous one, mines without monsters are only a bit less deadly then those in which a beastie resides. A group of coal miners are forced against their will to escort a professor underground to assist in taking measurements for his…studies. This mission is not well-liked by the miners on account of the requisite shirking of safety measures that they must undergo in order to cater to the professor’s timeline. But alas, the mysterious professor has greased the right palms, and before long the whole lot of them are reluctantly following their marching orders into the depths of the mine. Do I need to say anything else? Things do not go well. Both the natural (cave-in) and supernatural (a monster that would do Stan Winston proud) team up to take this doomed party out one by one.

Much like The Descent, The Deep Dark proves itself an effective, claustrophobic cave thriller long before anything paranormal occurs. Where it differs is in the mythology of its creature. Turi’s film provides an explanation for the monster, giving it a larger motivation than just ripping into the flesh of those who disturbed its home. In this way, the creature feels less like a wild animal and more like a Lovecraftian entity operating on entirely different cosmic level than humanity. There are shades of Alien here (complete with a suit who you just can’t trust, and the notion that no matter what happens, the creature can not be permitted to reach Earth’s surface), but the setting itself is wholly unique. The cave system is used to full effect, and an established geography is maintained uncommonly well. When our trapped heroes split up and move across different routes and into different sections of the cave, it’s never an anonymous location. In fact, I could probably draw the cave system for you from memory reasonably well.

Ultimately, The Deep Dark finds much of its success in its memorable characters, even as many of them are…eliminated. It’s not precious about who lives or dies, and short of our main protagonist, it becomes deliciously difficult to know who to root for. This is a good problem to have, because it means that every death, injury, or moment of terror holds weight. And since the entire party isn’t even supposed to be there in the first place, the dread is palpable from moment one.

On the way out of the theater I managed to sneak a compliment to the director. I told him that when I went to bed that night, I would close my eyes and surely see the creature in my mind. 

Well, that was a few days ago. Can confirm that I indeed lost a few winks over it.

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