Horror prequels walk an incredibly fine line. On one hand, they need to scare the hell out of the audience as much as the initial film. On the other hand, they cannot leave trauma that will forever jade the characters. After all, if they have to return, they need to be functional humans. For a story like Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, a storyteller like Stephen King is a perfect author to draw from. His verbose novels open the door to pursue interesting ideas from the crevices of the story. However, while the story in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines should pull on our heartstrings, it can never quite achieve that goal.
In 1969, Judd Crandall (Jackson White) feels directionless. With his father’s (Henry Thomas) insistence, he prepares to leave Ludlow behind with his girlfriend Norma (Natalie Alyn Lind). However, Judd’s childhood friend Timmy (Jack Mulhern) struggles to adjust since returning from Vietnam. With the help of Manny (Forrest Goodluck), Judd reaches out to Timmy despite the secrecy of Tim’s father (David Duchovny).
Many aspects of the Pet Sematary: Bloodlines story make for fertile ground. Hints of corruption in draft-era America shine a light on socioeconomic divides, especially in small towns. Questions about the treatment of indigenous peoples in rural America come to light. Perhaps most fitting, it raises real concerns about veteran care after they return home.
Despite having a lot on its mind, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines covers most of the ideas with surface-level examinations. This makes the emotional ties between the boys (Judd, Manny, Timmy) and their families all the more important. Unfortunately, an uneven performance from Duchovny drags Pet Sematary: Bloodlines down.
Director Lindsey Anderson Beer keeps the visuals of Pet Sematary: Bloodlines disturbing. While this version features less pet death than other iterations, her camera finds some gnarly scenes. The gore provides a floor of enjoyment for horror fans. However, Beer maintains several visual motifs and images from the 2019 Pet Sematary remake. Serving as a direct prequel to that feature harms Bloodlines, as that style and approach did not work either. Instead, letting Beer find her own visuals from scratch seems like it might have been the stronger option.
For the most part, the performances from the teens add much-needed melodrama. Even with some of the emotion feeling unearned, its mere presence was welcomed. Goodluck is forced to play too subdued but brings the most believable pathos regardless. Mulhern taps into the darkest performance and holds the camera with his odd physical movements. However, Isabella Star LaBlanc steals the show despite limited screentime. It’s a multifaceted performance that allows her to show the greatest range of any performer in the film.
It’s always exciting to see King material on the big screen, even when adapting a flashback. There will always be a foundation of scary stories to draw from. Yet Pet Sematary: Bloodlines needed a jolt of emotion from its cast to land its story beats successfully. Instead, it feels like a weak attempt to revive an IP. As a result, the story stalls out and loses much of its intrigue as we inch closer to the original story.