The latest entry in the Stephen King Renaissance launched by the wild success of It in 2017 is a second film adaptation of Pet Sematary, King’s 1989 novel about a father who uses the power of an ancient Native America burial site to resurrect his family’s dead cat with horrifying results, only for him to attempt the same when his son dies in a tragic accident. Some people never learn, and, as the family’s neighbor says, “Sometimes dead is better.”
The new 2019 adaptation of the story directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer follows the gist of the original pretty closely for the first half, but begins to deviate wildly in the final hour, offering a series of startling surprises even for fans that closely remember the novel or first movie. A few inconsequential details are different here, like the inclusion of iPhones and laptops, but the overall story and its themes remain the same.
What’s different about the story in 2019’s Pet Sematary, especially in terms of the shockingly bleak ending? Here’s what you need to know.
Major spoilers follow for Pet Sematary.
The 2019 Version Kills Ellie Instead of Gage
In every version of Pet Sematary, the Creed family moves into a home next to what’s essentially a two-lane highway. Huge Orinco tractor trailer trucks cruise down the road at high speeds. Then, one truck driver kills the family cat Winston “Church” Churchill. Dad tells the kids Church ran away before burying the body on haunted land that supposedly brings dead things back to life.
At Ellie’s 9th birthday party, the children both spot the return of Church standing in the road after he’d supposedly run away. Louis Creed rushes out and grabs his son just in time, saving Gage’s life. But nobody sees Ellie further down the road, and she’s struck dead. Overcome with grief, Louis then buries his daughter in the same plot he’d put Church.
That’s the first big difference. In the book, it’s their son that dies. Not the daughter.
Co-director Dennis Widmyer tells Inverse that choice was made by Matt Greenberg’s script, but the directors supported the change.
“Ellie’s the one asking questions to her dad about mortality, what happens after we die, and why cats die before people do,” Widmyer says. “We love exploring those questions again when she comes back at the end of the movie.”
What Does the Ancient Burial Ground Do?
King’s original story explained that the ancient burial site was used by the Micmac Native American tribe. Jud claims that anything resurrected using this method comes back possessed by some kind of “demon” and that the place itself has its own kind of power to tempt, leading him to say, “Sometimes, dead is better.” Everybody knows from experience that nothing good comes from this place.
Jud says the same line in the latest movie, confirming that the origins are more or less the same. He then adds that when they people experience loss and tragedy, the place seemingly feeds on their grief, exerting a sense of power and tempting them to use it. Judd also goes one step further, connecting this mystical power to the “spirit of the Wendigo,” saying outright that it’s this specific evil spirit that inhabits the dead.
Resurrected people retain aspects of their former identity, but the overall vibe feels like your typical demonic possession.
Who Lives and Who Dies in the End?
The final act in all iterations of Pet Sematary involves a lot of brutal murder and usually a few different resurrections via the titular burial plot, along with Jud’s house burning to the ground. The 1989 movie follows the book almost to a tea, but the 2019 film changes a lot.
In the previous versions, Gage is resurrected and kills the family’s neighbor Jud Randall, along with his mother Rachel. Louis then confronts Church and Gage, killing them both with syringes before burning down the Randall house and dragging Rachel’s body to the burial plot to bring her back to life. Louis hopes the resurrection process might work properly this time around, but sure enough, the final note implies she’s just going to kill Louis. There’s no way out of this hell that Louis has created for the Creed family.
2019’s Pet Sematary is a radical departure from that order of events, doubling down on an even more bleak ending. The recently resurrected Ellie still kills Jud and then her mother, but Church smartly avoids any direct confrontation. (The zombie cat survives!)
What then ensues feels like something close to a demonic possession zombie invasion: Zombie Ellie buries her mother in the plot, and Zombie Rachel then joins in to help her fight Louis. They kill him and resurrect him. Then the three of them set Jud’s house on fire before returning for young Gage, who had been locked inside the car the whole time, still alive.
The last shot has Zombie Louis tap on the door while Church hops on the hood of the car. They’ll obviously wind up killing Gage to resurrect him as the final member of their zombie family. What’s next? We’ll never know, but it can’t be good.
Pet Sematary is now in theaters.