Fantastic Fest review: 'Pet Sematary' prequel worthy of Stephen King

David Duchovny (L) and Jack Mulhern star in "Pet Sematary: Bloodlines." Photo courtesy of Paramount Players
1 of 5 | David Duchovny (L) and Jack Mulhern star in "Pet Sematary: Bloodlines." Photo courtesy of Paramount Players

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Pet Sematary is not only one of Stephen King's scariest stories, but it's also a modern fable about the consequences of avoiding death and grief. The prequel Bloodlines, which premiered at Fantastic Fest, is less profound but still entertaining.

Bloodlines begins with a quick recap about the Mi'kmaq burial ground just beyond the pet sematary (misspelled by kids) in Ludlow, Maine. In the King story, Jud Crandall introduces his neighbor to that burial ground, which has the power to revive the family cat.


The film then shows Bill Baterman (David Duchovny) bury something there. It's 1969 and young Jud (Jackson White) and his girlfriend, Norma (Natalie Alyn Lynd), plan to leave Ludlow to join the Peace Corps.

Various forces conspire to keep them in Ludlow as a bird hits their windshield, and a dog bite requires Norma to spend a few nights in the hospital. Jud and Norma also meet Bill's son, Timmy (Jack Mulhern), who has returned from Vietnam.


If Bill's previous activities weren't suspicious, Timmy looks pale enough to have made a stop at the Mi'kmaq burial ground on his way home from Vietnam. Timmy's story is also one Jud Crandall will tell as an old man to try to dissuade his neighbor from burying a person instead of an animal.

Old Jud left out some details that make up the story of Bloodlines. This is Jud's first experience with the Mi'kmaq burial ground, so he is bewildered by the suspicious behaviors of Timmy, Bill and even their dog.

Bloodlines also gets to humans a lot sooner. King introduced the concept with revived animals and then escalated to humans, who return from the dead as killers.

Not only does the prequel start with Timmy, but it's also more expansive. Each previous Pet Sematary only had one killer at a time. In Bloodlines, Timmy's return spreads and brings back more people to join his spree.

Jud's experiences here add a new level to his role in the original Pet Sematary story. It's up to the audience to infer whether Jud is trying to atone for past mistakes later in life or is just doomed to repeat the ones of 1969.


But overall, the psychological implications of the burial ground are a smaller factor in the prequel as they are in the King story, which was adapted for film in 1989 and 2019. The 1989 film also had a sequel.

Bloodlines touches on the resentment Bill feels toward Jud because Timmy got drafted to go to Vietnam and Jud did not. It is suggested that Jud's father (Henry Thomas) got him out of it.

Even if it was just luck, the rivalry is irrelevant. Any father would be tempted to bring back a son killed in war.

There is a flashback to 1674, showing how American settlers did not heed Mi'kmaq leaders' warnings. That is a relevant metaphor for the way society tends to pillage natural resources regardless of the harmful consequences.

Those interesting themes do get a few scenes to marinate between killings. However, the focus of Bloodlines is to bring more people back from the dead as evil killers, which is a perfectly reasonable mission for a horror franchise entry.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines premieres Oct. 6 on Paramount+

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


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