'Pet Sematary' Star Amy Seimetz Opens Up About Bringing Real Terror to Stephen King's Contemplative Horror
By Zach Seemayer
Jesse Grant/Getty Images
*Caution: Spoilers ahead!
Behind the nerve-wracking terror of undead children and haunting visions of nightmarish trauma, there is a painful, existential fear in the latest big-screen adaptation of Stephen King's iconic Pet Sematary that transcends the everyday jump-scares audiences have come to expect from modern horror films.
For star Amy Seimetz, the true nature of the horror captured in this latest iteration comes not from the reanimated monsters, but from the stark and unnerving examination of the nature of mortality and the concept of death itself.
"We just all avoid the conversation of death, in order to function," Seimetz recently shared with ET. "If we were just talking about death all the time, there wouldn't be buildings, there wouldn't be bridges, I mean, we wouldn't do anything. We'd be like, 'This is futile.' It's just such a big concept."
For those unfamiliar with the story of Pet Sematary, the film follows Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his wife, Rachel (Seimetz), who move from Boston to rural Ludlow, Maine, with their 8-year-old daughter, Ellie (Jeté Laurence), and their 2-year-old son, Gage (Hugo Lavoie), as well as their beloved pet cat, Church.
Located near their new home is a community pet cemetery where kids come to bury their late furry friends. The title of the film comes from the misspelled sign a child wrote and placed at the front of the miniature graveyard.
The family quickly befriends their next door neighbor, Jud (John Lithgow), but tragedy soon strikes when the family's cat is hit and killed by one of the many 16-wheeler big rigs that tear down the two-lane highway in front of their new home.
The feline fatality leads to one of the most surprising, and frankly uncomfortable, scenes in the film, when Louis and Rachel are faced with having to explain to their little girl that her cat has died and, in a bigger picture, what death even means. And for Seimetz, this exchange sits at the core of the contemplative and pensive terror that permeates the film.
"When do you tell your children about how f**ked up life is?" Seimetz reflected. "Kids are really precious and kids are really smart. Especially now with the internet. They're going to find out anything they want. And they are wildly perceptive."
Meaning, ultimately, that they will eventually have to learn that "life itself is f**king scary."
"And I don't really need a zombie. I just need to know that death is coming," Seimetz added, with a touch of understandable gallows humor.
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The crux of Pet Sematary revolves around a special burial ground -- far deeper in the fog-covered Maine woods than the "Sematary" of the film's title -- that brings dead things back to life. Jud first introduces Louis to the foreboding graveyard when Church dies, in an effort to spare Ellie from the pain of losing her beloved pet.
But, as Jud later explains -- delivering one of the most iconic lines for fans of the work -- "Sometimes, dead is better." Church comes back from the dead, but doesn't come back the same. The gentle, docile feline returns to the Creed home filthy, angry and very, very mean.
In King's 1983 novel, and director Mary Lambert's 1989 film adaptation, Louis and Rachel later suffer a devastating, life-shattering trauma when Gage is also hit and killed by a semi-truck, leading his distraught father to do the unthinkable in an effort to see his little boy again.
As revealed in early trailers for this latest take on the story, writer Jeff Buhler and directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer opted to change one important element in that equation -- instead of the toddler getting killed, the couple's little girl, Ellie, dies just minutes after blowing out the candles on her 9th birthday cake.
For Seimetz, the change played a vital function in making the film work today, what with the legacy that comes before it.
"How do you make it new and not just tread on familiar territory? Because you have to with horror," she shared. "Whether people are familiar with the book or familiar with the movie, [they] know what Pet Sematary is, and they know what happens. So, in order to modernize it, you have to do something unexpected."
Seimetz -- a celebrated and award-winning director and writer in her own right -- also explained the importance of subverting expectations while "staying true to the heart of the story."
"[The film] is about grieving and loss," she shared, "and the question of, 'If you had the chance to bring somebody back, would you do it, even if they might come back different?'"
"And so many people would," she added. "I would. I mean, honestly, even though I acted in this, even though they might come back evil, I would still give anything to, like, see my dad again. You know what I mean?"
Another interesting impact of having the 9-year-old daughter return from the grave as a frighteningly violent conduit of malice after suffering a grisly death is how different her character's emotional complexity becomes, as compared to any other iteration of the story.
"It gives her a lot more of a complete arc. [She is] a child at that age, who understands that death is coming and begins questioning what existence is," Seimetz said. "With a toddler, we're all Sims characters to them. They're the center of the universe. They don't question anything… so they're not even thinking about death."
When Ellie returns from the mystical burial ground, her distraught father is so overcome with relief that he has a hard time recognizing the obviously insidious nature of whatever evil force is clearly inhabiting his dead daughter's mind and body, and she "becomes the Id of both of her parents' guilt, because they couldn't protect her," Seimetz explained.
Louis' unwillingness to deal with his grief and trauma leads viewers to see a rational, sensible man break down into madness.
"King doesn't shy away from the messiness of what grief is," Seimetz explained. "How [the concept of death and mortality] sort of breaks your brain open."
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For Seimetz' character, Rachel, death plays an enormous part in her life, and is one reason the character struggles to face the truth of death time and again in the film. As a child, Rachel was witness to -- and, as she believes, partially responsible for -- the death of her sick, bed-ridden sister. And that gruesome death has never stopped haunting her mind.
Seimetz displays her character's internal battle with grief, while opening up for the first time about her sister's death, with a mix of fear, absolute panic, sadness and a manic energy that elevates her grief to a disconcertingly authentic level.
"I didn't want Rachel to be weepy. I didn't want her to be sad and helpless and all these things," Seimetz recalled. "You have to show all the emotions that come from grieving, because it's not simple. It's not a simple process. And that's where the horror comes from."
There's no doubt that the terror is being felt by audiences around the country, with the film getting some seriously high praise from horror fans, critics and even King himself, who is famously particular about his feelings towards the adaptations of his work.
"Do you understand how many times I've given the little kid in me a high five that [King] approved?" Seimetz said, gleefully. "I'm a genre junkie, and I was also a massive Stephen King fan from very early on."
"Even before I read him, he was so ubiquitous. I don't know a world without Stephen King," she added. "I was born into a world where he was already so omnipresent in the [horror] genre, so I was just so excited to be able to be a part of one of his universes."