Pet Semetery: Bloodlines (Fantastic Fest 2023)
Dir. Lindsey Anderson Beer (2023)
A young Judson Crandall attempts to leave the town of Ludlow, Maine to join the Peace Corps, but the cemetery in the woods makes that more than a little difficult.
I have made it no secret to anyone that knows me that I didn't particularly enjoy 2018's Pet Semetery remake. Unfortunately, no one with whom I've discussed the film has disagreed with my opinion. I was, therefore, not exactly excited at the prospect of a new film in the same universe, especially because the source film is now almost 35 years old. Discovering that the film was also intended to be a prequel to the original was an intriguing, if potentially disastrous, concept. And yet, director Lindsey Anderson Beer's new take on the story took exactly that approach, and while it avoided becoming as much of a disaster as its direct predecessor, it never attains anywhere near the height of its classic namesake.
Set in 1964 amidst the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Pet Semetery: Bloodlines follows Judd Crandall (Jackson White) as he attempts to leave Ludlow, Maine to start a new life in the Peace Corps. His girlfriend (Natalie Alyn Lind) and traveling companion is attacked by a neighbor's dog on the way out of town, delaying their exit and leading Judd to investigate, with the help of local Native American teens Donna (Isabella LaBlanc) and her brother Manny (Forrest Goodluck). As Judd's parents increase their urging for him to get the fuck out of town and the local kid Timmy (Jack Mulhern) becomes increasingly unhinged after his own experience with the cemetery, Judd finds himself in more danger than he ever would have been had he been sent to Saigon.
The casting of the film is actually pretty impressive: David Duchovny (who plays Timmy's father Bill), Henry Thomas (Haunting of Hill House, ET), and Pam Grier highlight the stars along for the ride. While the big names aren't in and of themselves enough to make the film worth a watch, they all give better-than-adequate performances and almost make the whole thing worth it. In fact, the acting all around isn't half bad. Unfortunately, the story itself is where the film finds its greatest weakness, inserting itself into the franchise as an unrequested prequel that feels like it came about thirty years too late. It's not abnormal to have a popular supernatural film receive a sequel that delves deeper into the story's mythology, but it is a little strange for a series to receive that treatment several decades later. Bloodlines does a decent job of furthering the story, but it greatly struggles with the fact that no one was really clamoring for the explanation.
There are some bright spots in the film. The cinematography is decent, The practical effects aren't terrible, and while the CGI shots aren't particularly great, they're thankfully sparingly used. Some scares are sprinkled throughout, and Mulhern actually does a pretty good job of being unnervingly creepy. When the film takes a turn near the end, pivoting from being a supernatural horror into straight slasher mode, the film actually becomes pretty enjoyable. Bloodlines suffers greatly from being exactly what you think it's going to be, however, ultimately failing to ever really establish itself as necessary. While this isn't a capital crime, it is one that makes it a waste for all but those who have a particular fondness for the series.
Who this movie is for: Pet Semetery superfans, Modern slasher lovers, Really good vets
Bottom line: Pet Semetery is not a movie that particularly needs a prequel, but Bloodlines is here to fill that gap anyway. The acting is decent, the writing is just alright, and while the cinematography and direction do enough to make the film watchable, it never progresses much further than that. If you weren't a fan of the 2018 film, you likely won't like this one either. If you're a big fan of the originals and want some exploration of the backstory, you could very well appreciate the efforts the film makes to dig into the lore.