Movie review

Should have left well enough alone.

That goes for Louis Creed (Jason Clarke), the physician father of a child killed in a road accident who, shattered with grief, turns to supernatural means to resurrect his dead loved one.

It also goes for the people who decided to reanimate “Pet Sematary,” Stephen King’s shivery creepfest, which was the basis of the spattery 1989 horror hit of the same name. (“Pet Sematary Two,” released in 1992, was not well-received.)

Bringing the dead back to life never turns out well, as Louis learns to his everlasting regret in “Pet.” Reanimated beings look bad and behave worse. Let the red stuff flow as stabbings, slashings and clawings erupt at intervals. Truth be told, though, this new version — directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, from a screenplay by Jeff Buhler — is only moderately gruesome as such things go these days.

The picture’s real weakness is that the reanimated dead display a great deal more vitality than the characters in their pre-killed state.

Example: The family cat, Churchill, is a docile, sleepy tabby until he’s run over in the road hard by the Creeds’ home in a woodsy part of King’s native state of Maine. (Curiously, the province of Quebec stands in, unlike the original, which at King’s insistence, was filmed on his home turf.) The kitty corpse is lugged deep into the spooky forest by Louis under the guidance of old-timer neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow). Past the sematary of the title (the name misspelled by kids from town who bury their pets there) the men go, arriving finally at a haunted ancient Indian burial site. There, Churchill is laid to rest.

Some rest. Because quick as you please, he returns, all grody and snarly.

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“There is something up there,” Jud declares. “Something that brings things back.” But not in a good way.

Thus is Louis warned. And this, after being previously warned by a reanimated corpse in his emergency room at the picture’s start.

When his child dies, he ignores the warning. Not wise.

Pallid performances on the part of Clarke, Amy Seimetz, who plays Louis’ wife, and Jeté Laurence, who plays the couple’s daughter, keep “Pet” from connecting deeply with the viewer’s emotions. Louis’ fervent desire to shield his kid from the grief of losing her beloved pet lacks significant fervor, and so his transgressing the natural order of things — “Sometimes dead is better” — feels almost matter-of-fact.

Combine that with the directors’ penchant for plodding tracking shots of characters walking through misty night woods, full of eerie whispers, and spooky-seeming corridors and stairways, and it feels like they’re slow-walking the audience through the plot.

Should have left well enough alone.

_____

★½ “Pet Sematary,” with Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, John Lithgow, Jeté Laurence. Directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, from a screenplay by Jeff Buhler. 101 minutes. Rated R for horror violence, bloody images, and some language. Opens April 5 at multiple theaters.