Sometimes dead is better…
…Don’t be fooled, horror fans, as Pet Graveyard is not the cheap knockoff of Pet Sematary that you might think it is. Instead, first time director Rebecca Matthews’ film is just capitalizing on the title which is eerily familiar to Stephen King’s classic story. So, there’s that.
Written by Suzy Spade, Pet Graveyard follows a group of teens after they decide to conduct a Flatliners-esque experiment which they call “brinking”, which is really just a sexy term for bringing themselves near death. But after three of the teens successfully “brink”, they find themselves haunted by death and his ugly, glowy-eyed cat servant.
Pet Graveyard is like a poor man’s version of Flatliners meets Final Destination meets I Know What You Did Last Summer. That’s right, death knows what these kids did, and he demands their souls as payback. Instead of using the scientific approach seen in Flatliners, or the unpredictable supernatural abilities of death in Final Destination, Pet Graveyard takes a more hammer and nails approach to these storylines, treating death as a rubber-masked slasher villain using actual tools to kill his victims. Simple, but effective. Mostly.
Early on, we’re introduced to our small cast of four, lead by siblings Lily (Jessica Otoole) and Jeff (David Cotter), whose mother, Carla (Kate Milner Evans) died recently. What’s interesting about this cast of characters is that they are all deeply sympathetic characters who are willing to die, just to have a chance to apologize to and make peace with the loved one they lost. Of course, that ends up backfiring with them finding themselves haunted by said loved one, but what can you do? The actors seesaw between being believable and coming off a little forced, and the relationship between Lily and Jeff can become aggravating, since all they seem to do is yell at each other and argue, yet the moments with the ghosts of their loved ones are emotional and well done by Matthews and Spade. We feel something for these people, even if they aren’t particularly well written.
Williams also creates a decent sense of atmosphere in Pet Graveyard, especially early on. Pet Graveyard takes its time to dig up the terror. One scene in particular, in which the group finally “brinks”, is particularly eerie in its simplicity. Our cast finds themselves in a dark room, with a single light on them, and nothing but their loved one and, eventually, Death. Think Insidious, but without all of the fog. You could argue though that Pet Graveyard runs too slow with the pacing, as scenes tend to run LONG. The “brinking” scene alone seems to go on for twenty minutes, if not more. You might start to feel like a grave robber digging up a grave by yourself, trying to get to some buried treasure…or the body itself. I don’t know what you’re into.
It’s from this point that Pet Graveyard takes a turn from strange to downright bad. It starts with Death. Those looking for an average slasher film with some fun effects/kills will be sorely disappointed. Matthews’ film is a timid slasher with effects that never get more creative than a little blood around someone’s mouth. You’ll probably get a kick out of the cloak and Halloween mask worn by Death, but if you’re looking for “scary”, this aint it. Pet Graveyard completely loses any atmospheric buildup it had going once Death begins stalking our characters, because you can’t take anything going on too seriously, yet the script treats the story with a deadpan tone. The too-bright lighting doesn’t help Death appear any more intimidating, either.
Pet Graveyard completely ignores the potential for an entertaining slasher with some dark humor mixed in, going full-force into the drama of the guilt the cast feels over the death of their loved ones, and the pain it causes to see them again. This might be okay if the horror surrounding the emotional storytelling was effective, or if the cast was consistently believable, but neither of those things are the case here. By the film’s midpoint, you’ll be begging Death to just get it over with and kill everyone, for the sake of some entertainment value. This of course does result in some unintentional humor, such as a laughable exposition dump where Lily finds out how to kill death online, which she reads out loud for a good couple of minutes, like we all do. But anyone who has seen Final Destination knows you can’t stop death. Lily clearly wasn’t on Google long enough.
Pet Graveyard, despite its mish-mash concoction of ideas from more successful films, actually had a lot of potential on its own as an odd, stalk and slash supernatural film, yet limits itself too much to be considered anything but a bland capitalization on a title that’s going to confuse some people looking for the latest Pet Sematary film. Oh well, at least we get a literal “shifty-eyed animal” ending with Death’s cat that is good for a laugh out loud moment. Props to casting for finding the ugliest cat on the planet, as well.
Pet Graveyard releases on VOD from Uncork’d Entertainment on April 2nd.
By Matt Konopka