Ink to Film Podcast: Ep 84- Pet Sematary (2019 film)
Note: The Ink to Film Podcast is conversational and intended to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, if able, for tone and inflection. Our transcripts are generated using a transcriptionist but may contain errors. Please refer to the corresponding audio before quoting anything written here.
This episode aired on April 4, 2019 and was made possible by our generous patrons.
James: Welcome to the Ink to Film podcast, where we read the book…
Luke: …and then see the movie.
James: I’m James.
Luke: And I’m Luke.
James: This week, with the help of special guest, Sara Tantlinger, we discuss Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s 2019 film, Pet Sematary.
Luke: All right, we’d like to welcome Sara Tantlinger to the show. Sara is the author of Love for Slaughter and a Bram Stoker award-nominated collection, The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes. She is a poetry editor for Oddville Press, and a fellow graduate of Seton Hill’s MFA program. Welcome to the show, Sara.
Sara: Thank you so much for having me.
Luke: It’s great to have you on. I haven’t talked to you much since we graduated, but it’s always cool to catch up with a friend, and you’ve been blowing up, getting nominated for Stoker awards and all kinds of stuff. It’s really cool.
Sara: Thank you so much. I appreciate that.
James: Yeah, thank you for coming on the podcast. It’s also nice to meet you, Sara.
Sara: It’s very nice to meet you, too.
Luke: Honestly, when we were doing Pet Sematary, I thought of you because you’re one of my friends who’s really into horror, and you know, I was really curious to know what you thought of it, so I asked you if you’d read the book before, and you said you had. So, I was like, “You’d be a perfect person to have on and talk about this new movie.” So, yeah, why don’t you tell us about your history with this. Have you seen the ‘80s movie?
Sara: I did, but it was so long ago, I don’t remember the details very much. But the book I read years and years ago, but I actually re-read it just before the film came out, too, because I wanted to remember everything that happened. So, I have both nice and fresh in my brain to talk about. So, that was really helpful.
James: Very cool.
Luke: Well, I mean, if people have been following along with our previous episodes, they would know that I read the book for the first time before seeing this. I had not seen the old movie. I’ve seen a couple scenes from it, but that was it, so…really I was very fresh to this material. I really enjoyed the book. It was a really, kind of personal experience for me, and I really enjoyed it. I talked about why in the previous episodes, but…yeah, I was going in with all of this positive energy going in to see this movie. So, that’s where I was at, at least.
Sara: Yeah. I enjoyed your coverage of the book. I just listened to that over the weekend, and you guys said all kinds of things I want to talk about, too, as we get into the movie. Maybe compare that to how we all felt about parts of the book.
Luke: Yeah. That’s awesome, thank you!
Luke: Oh, so I also wanted to bring up, you’re editing, or you’re in the process of putting together, an anthology called Not All Monsters. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?
Sara: Absolutely. So, Not All Monsters is going to be an anthology released by Strange House Books next year, probably in the fall, and it was a call for women who write horror. So, it’s a book completely by women who write horror. The table of contents is almost finalized. I’m just putting everything in the order that I want it right now. And then we’ll edit the stories and get that out next year. We’re really excited. There are some amazing stories in here. I think this anthology is going to do really well. Women are scary, and they are bad-ass, and they are telling amazing stories, and I cannot wait to share it with everybody.
Luke: I can’t wait to read it. That’s so cool. So, before we get into it, I did want to mention that we are doing a giveaway for Pet Sematary, the book. We have free copies we’re giving out on our social media platform, and you have…when this episode comes out on Thursday, you’re going to have basically 24 hours until the end of day, Friday. I think we’re going to say just like midnight on Friday, to enter for a chance to win. And honestly, your chances are pretty good. Just go, and you can enter up to three times on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. And, yeah. We’re really excited to give away these books. We are working with Scribner, the publisher, and they provided these. They were really generous with their offer, so…I don’t know, it’s really cool, and we’re hoping to do this sort of thing in the future, so if you did participate in this giveaway, make sure to stick around and watch for more giveaways in the future.
James: Yeah, I can’t wait to see listeners actually have the book in their hand. It will be very cool. So, I guess I’ll take over here a little bit.
James: We’re going to be covering the Pet Sematary 2019 film.
James: So, we’ll be starting with general thoughts. I want to hear what you guys thought about this film versus the book, and maybe the original film, Sara, if you can remember some of those scenes? I also want to hear about your theater-going experience. What was it like in the theater for you.
Luke: Hmm. Also, we should say, these are going to be spoiler-free thoughts. So, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, this is safe. You can listen to this, and we’ll definitely alert you when we’re going to get into spoilers.
James: So, Sara, how was your theater-going experience?
Sara: It was awesome, because I went in the middle of the day on a Friday with a friend, and nobody else was there. It was kind of this theater off the beaten path, so that was really good, because I reacted very vocally to a lot of things in the movie, and nobody was there, so…I just got to talk and yell at the screen for a while. That was really great, because usually there’s people around, and you can’t do that, so…I love when you have the theater to yourself, and you can kind of discuss these things as they’re unfolding.
Luke: Was it like Mystery Science Theater…was that the name of it?
James: Yeah. 3000?
Luke: Yeah. Thank you, thank you. Yeah, for me, James, I went and saw this alone because my wife is not into horror, and she kind of talked about maybe giving it a go, but ultimately it was like…I would have felt guilty bringing her to it, because it would have freaked her out. So, I said, “You just stay home. I’ll go alone. It will be fine.” And then when I was there, there were like three or four other people around me who were all alone. So, then it kind of felt like we were all there together. Which was kind of cool.
James: You should have sat…did you sit next to each other?
Luke: Yeah, we were like, we all had a gap of like one seat between us, and we were all around. It was pretty cool. So, I guess that was fine. My main problem was that my chair was broken, so I was like in a full recline the whole time. That was my only option. I could not sit up. So, that wasn’t ideal.
James: You should have told the theater that. And you just dealt with that, huh? You didn’t pop over a seat and sit next to one of your buddies?
Luke: It was okay. Well, also I thought that would be weird, if I just randomly scooched over next to somebody. But, yeah, I mean like…I like reclining during the movie, I just kind of like to have the option to sit up on occasion. So, yeah, it was okay but a little frustrating.
James: So, I went on Saturday night, and it was a pretty packed theater. But what surprised me was there were like four kids who sat right next to me and my girlfriend.
Luke: Oh, man.
James: Yeah, and I was like, “Wow, okay, we’re going to bring kids to this.” And we’re talking like…I told you I was horrified by the first movie in one of our past episodes. And I was like, “Okay, I’m going to get to witness these kids become traumatized.”
Luke: Be scarred.
James: Yeah. I’m talking like, one of them couldn’t be more than like six years old.
Sara: Oh my gosh.
James: Yeah, and…
Luke: There was a scene with Ellie…not…yeah, I guess it’s kind of a spoiler. There’s a scene where Ellie is in a bathtub, and I won’t say what happens, but it was creepy, and I was thinking like, if I was a kid watching this scene, it would be very terrifying to me.
James: I will just say there was a lot of squirming and tapping and moving.
Luke: I bet.
James: Because I think the kids were not enjoying themselves…
Luke: Hiding the eyes, probably.
James: Yeah, I couldn’t believe it. So, that was my theater experience.
Luke: Maybe they’re horror writers in the making, though. You never know.
James: They’re a whole family of horror writers.
James: So, yeah, that was my experience, and now I’d love to hear what you guys felt about this film on its own, and then we’ll talk about comparison to the book after that.
Luke: Yeah, non-spoilers. Let’s start with Sara.
Sara: All right. So, generally, gosh, I don’t even know where to start. I guess generally there are some things that I liked about it. <laughing> There were a couple parts…
Luke: Damning with faint praise.
Sara: There were some parts that I thought were pretty spooky, and maybe we’ll get into that later. Generally, I guess I just felt like it was a very generic horror film. I did not feel like I was watching Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. I felt like I was watching any plain old horror film that didn’t really offer a lot of different things to it. And, again, there were some things that I did like, but overall I was just not that impressed with it as its own thing. Anytime I go into a Stephen King film, I just try to disassociate myself completely with the fact that it’s inspired by Stephen King because, for whatever reason, when we make a Stephen King film, we just have to change it as much as possible a lot of the time.
James: I don’t get it.
Sara: Yeah, I don’t understand either. You have the greatest source material, so I just don’t…yeah, so I just try to step away from that. So, that was kind of my level of thinking going into it. I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to see what they do.” I didn’t…I didn’t even watch any trailers about it. I saw, like, part of the trailer, but I just didn’t want to see anything. So, there were definitely some surprises that way.
Luke: So, yeah, I guess I’m pretty similar. I would say it was a very mixed reaction to this movie. And when I was going through…because I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it right afterwards, other than just kind of a mixed feeling. And the more I kind of like thought about it over the following day…because I just saw it on Sunday…the more I started to think, like, honestly there were more negatives than there were positives. So, I think it was mixed, but overall a little bit negative for me. Which, I feel bad, because we always try and look at stuff from the point of view of the people who make it, right? And we know a lot of work went into this, and people want to have a great movie. And we totally understand that. But, for whatever reason, this just didn’t quite hit that for me. For what I wanted from a Pet Sematary adaptation. It just didn’t hit all the things that I was really hoping for. And I haven’t seen the ‘80s movie, so maybe it’s way better, maybe it’s also got problems in different ways. I don’t know. I’d definitely be interested to watch it, and maybe we’ll do that as a bonus episode, James, but, yeah, I was mixed. How about you, James?
James: I had written down this sentence that I really felt like encapsulated my thoughts on it, and it was…I would say for the first quarter of the movie, I was really open and willing to whatever was going to happen. I really wanted to like it, especially after our coverage. And you know, I had my eyes wide open for other Stephen King references and nods and things that were going to go on. But, oh my gosh, by the end, I would say…my ultimate thoughts on it were it wasn’t aggressively bad. It wasn’t like, you know, unwatchable, but I felt myself rolling my eyes, and I really was shocked at just how cliché they made this film, and how it just felt safe and every twist…even the twists that were in there, I felt like I could see them coming. And one of the major things that was sticking out to me is…Luke, we talked about it in one of our other episodes, how we…this wasn’t a remake, right?
James: We were like, if you’re retelling the story, and you go to the source material, then you’re actually just making another movie.
Luke: You’re making a new adaptation, yeah.
James: But, really, for me this felt like a real…it felt like a remake. It felt like a response to the ’89 film.
James: …to the 1980s film. I think they…It was more of a reaction to the old film than it was to the source material, and that’s kind of where I landed on it.
Sara: Yeah. I definitely agree with that “cliché” and “safe,” which is usually what makes horror boring for me. I want it to be something different. I want you to push those boundaries, and this just didn’t. It just…it censored a lot of stuff, too. Like, from the book.
Sara: Even from the ‘80s film.
James: Yeah, I agree with that, definitely.
Luke: I think one example of this is, I wrote down…it was one of my first notes that I felt like I had to write down was that they just went crazy with the fog machine.
Did you notice that? Like, there was just so much fog all the time. It was so weird.
James: I didn’t even mind that, really. Like, that was something I did want to say. Just to give it points for…I don’t think there was a particular…I think there was some good shot selection, and I think it was fairly good-looking. There were moments of green screen that were kind of blatant.
James: But it looked all right, and the sound design…it had some good sound design. But it just like really didn’t capture the heart of what the story is supposed to be about, which we talked about multiple times was that guilt and that dread of losing someone and what you would do. I just didn’t really feel like I connected to the characters in that way.
Sara: Yeah. I had almost no sympathy for Louis in the movie like I did in the book. Like, I think I felt a little sympathetic for Jud at one point. That movie wasted John Lithgow.
James: Oh, I totally agree with that.
Sara: But I just didn’t feel anything for the characters.
Luke: Yeah. It’s really sad. I wanted this movie to be great, and I guess it does kind of disappoint me. If I’d come in with lower expectations, maybe I would have enjoyed it more. I don’t know.
James: See, I can remember having a conversation with you, Luke, off-mic. And we were just talking about how the buzz that it was getting at South by Southwest.
Luke: Yes, what the hell?
James: And I remember being like, “We have to take that with a grain of salt because, like, that’s a favorable audience.”
Luke: You were so right, man.
James: But I allowed myself to buy into a little bit of that hype, and so the expectation was set. And then, when I saw it, I was just pretty let down.
Luke: Yeah, there was a lot of this positive buzz going around, and so I was kind of surprised that I didn’t like it more than I did. I guess I understand why people do this, but I was a little frustrated that we get zero Maine accents in this movie?
Sara: Oh, I know!
Luke: What the hell? That’s part of the texture of this book was these deep Maine accents, and we don’t get any of that.
Luke: I’m just trying to think of non-spoiler things to say, essentially.
Sara: I think part of what I said about it feeling so generic, too, like, this could have been set anywhere. And they could have had a burial ground. It didn’t feel specific to that region at all. The setting was just kind of bland that way.
Luke: Mmhmm. We did get an Easter egg, and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say it, that we did see Derry. It was on a signpost at one point, and I was like, “Yay, Derry!” Because that’s a fictional town. So, that’s cool that it’s an in-universe thing. But I think, unless you caught any other ones, I think that’s the only reference to any other…
James: I did hear one other one.
Luke: You heard one other one? What was it? Is it a spoiler?
James: At Ellie’s birthday…it’s not a spoiler…at Ellie’s birthday, in the background, you can hear John Lithgow as Jud telling a story about a Saint Bernard.
Luke: Oh, cool. I missed that.
James: Which was also a nod to the book, because there was a Cujo reference kind of similar…
James: Jud was telling a story to someone.
Luke: Yeah, that’s true.
James: So, other than that, though, I didn’t catch any other ones.
Sara: No, there were some almost-references to the original movie that I caught. Like, they…oh, I don’t want to give it away, but there were things that happened in the ‘80s movie that they started to play off, and then they gave us the “surprise.” I’m putting that in quotes.
James: And I think…I totally picked up on those, too, and I felt like that was why I was saying it was a response to the other film. Like, I think they were watching…they were trying to be like, “People love this movie.” Whereas, I thought we were going to get…I thought the reason to remake this was because people loved the book, and they didn’t feel like they got out of the first movie what they wanted.
James: So, I thought it was a chance to go back to the source material and…but instead, they were like…yeah, there’s a lot of wink and nods and nudges toward some of the stuff going on in the first…book, or sorry, the first movie, which I don’t know how much we want to touch on, just because Luke hasn’t seen it or doesn’t remember it. We might cover it here soon.
Sara: Yeah, I mean it doesn’t really matter that much, either. They had fun with it, but what does it really do for the audience? Not a lot.
Luke: Right. And don’t worry about it. If you guys want to talk about it, it will be fine. And if the listeners are frustrated that we’re not explaining these takes in more detail, it’s because we’re saving it for the…you know, it takes spoilers to talk about this stuff. But, yeah, I have specific reasons why certain things weren’t working, that we will get into. I did want to talk about…so, something I missed in the book coverage, I think, that I didn’t really talk about, was the idea of the speeding truck as a metaphor. Which I think is kind of cool to think about for this project in general. To me, it’s like the metaphor of, like, death speeding by your house. Like, literally, your front step. And it comes unannounced, and it’s scary, and at anytime you know it could strike you.
James: Well, that kind of goes along with what Jud was talking about, with…back in his day, death would come to your house and have dinner with you, or whatever?
Luke: Yeah, exactly. From the book. And I guess that is present in this movie, and so that’s cool. That is something they needed to have. But I have always liked that metaphor about this, and there was…I had a little bit of frustration with how it plays out in the movie, which we’ll talk about more in the spoiler section.
Sara: You know, I definitely agree with you. I mean, Stephen King loves his metaphors. He loves his foreshadowing. I’m actually re-reading Carrie right now for a class that I’m teaching. I’m teaching Carrie for horror. And it’s so funny to see how heavy he relies…every single page almost has red or blood on it in Carrie. Like, he’s not subtle at all. As I was re-reading Pet Sematary, I kind of caught onto that, too. How he…well, I guess between Carrie and Pet Sematary, he kind of calmed down a little bit with it, but even in the book Pet Sematary, he loves his foreshadowing, and he loves to put it right there for you. Yeah, the movie could have played with that so much more, and it just…it just didn’t.
James: I think it relied more on, like, the twist. You know, they wanted to hit us with the twist…
James: …and surprise us, rather than that dread that Stephen King builds up with his foreshadowing, where you kind of know where it’s going, and you have to deal with it.
Luke: Well, that was going to be my question. When the foreshadowing is done well, why do you think it works well in the book. And, you said they maybe could have played with that a little bit more…like, how could it have functioned in the movie in a way that it didn’t?
Sara: I think they could have just, like…and you guys talked about this, too. How King tells us what happened, and then he goes back and explains it and shows us all the emotion with it. So, the movie just shows us what happened and gives us emotion to it. It doesn’t really, I guess, artistically do anything with that. Like, there’s no time spent with the grief, with the imagery, with the symbolism. It’s all just there in like a little flash second, and you have to either get it or you don’t. Like, I think this movie would be really confusing if you haven’t read the book.
James: Yeah, I can see that.
Luke: Or seen the original, perhaps. Yeah. I agree with that. All right, I think we’ve done as much as we can dancing around spoilers. James, you’re going to tell us a little bit…
James: I have one last question for you. I know we talked a lot about negative stuff. Was there any positives you wanted to talk about generally before we move on?
Sara: I did like the bathtub scene. There’s something there that we see that was kind of creepy. I don’t think I can talk about the rest without getting into spoilers yet. But there were some things that could have been really interesting.
Luke: Yeah. I have a few things like that, too, that I’m thinking of. There were a few things I really liked. They did some major kind of reshuffling of a lot of the major plot points, so I can’t really talk about it without spoiling it, but some of them I thought actually worked really well. Or had the potential to work extremely well. And then some of them kind of fell flat. So, yeah, I don’t know how to talk about it without spoiling it, though, so I guess we’ll just have to save that.
James: Because I feel like there were some things here and there and, like Sara said, I think somewhere in the structure of the skeleton of this movie is a better movie. But I think that they made a couple decisions that led them down the wrong path. I think that Amy Seimetz, who played Rachel, was the standout for me, in terms of her performance.
James: I think we talked about John Lithgow was a little bit wasted. As much as I wanted to like his Jud, he just didn’t have very much. And Jason Clarke was serviceable, but I think they did some stuff with his character that I didn’t…like, agree with as much. But I think they really did something nice with Rachel’s character that added a little more texture, and I thought her performance was, like, fitting…I think really fitting for this movie. And, yeah, she was a standout.
Sara: Yeah. And the girl that played Ellie was very good, too.
Luke: That’s what I was going to say. I think it’s Jete Laurence? Perhaps, if I’m pronouncing that right. She was also goo. Although, yeah, I agree about Amy Seimetz. That was going to be my standout. I thought she was good. I think if the movie had been better, it would have been even more noteworthy, right? But when she was doing her thing, those were some of the most compelling parts of the movie.
James: Yeah. Well, with all that being said, let’s move into the filmmakers here. They are Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer. And they are fairly new to the scene of feature filmmaking. Maybe not new, but they haven’t had quite this much of a budget before.
Luke: Do they always work in tandem?
James: For the most part, yeah. Back in 2003, they co-founded Parallactic Pictures, and that has gone on to make a lot of short films. They tend to do a lot of short films, but there were three features that were notable. Starry Eyes in 2014, Holidays in 2016, and Mama 2.
Luke: Two. Oh, I think…I saw the trailer for that. Did you see any of those films, Sara?
Sara: Huh-uh. No, but I’d be very curious to see how they handle their other movies. Like, if it was an original script, I’d be curious to see what they did with it.
James: Their short films are pretty popular, and they’ve won at festivals such as South by Southwest and FantasticFest, so I think in terms of short films and any films, they have made a name for themselves. It was one of those situations where the studio saw these up-and-comers and wanted to give them a bigger budget film and see how they could work it.
James: So, Dennis Widmyer graduated from Long Island University in 1999, and he started working as a PA on a lot of comedy films and things like that. Then, like I said, in 2003, with his long-timer collaborator, Kevin Kölsch, they founded Parallactic Pictures. And they began with back-to-back productions of two feature-length projects. Postcards from the Future, which interestingly enough, is a documentary on the best-selling author Chuck Palahniuk…that’s how you say that, right? Palahniuk?
Luke: Yeah, Palahniuk.
James: And Absence is their other feature-length project.
James: It’s about a kidnapping. It’s a kidnapping mystery told from three points of view. So, I thought that was interesting that they did a documentary about an author we may actually cover at some point.
Luke: Yeah, I’m surprised we haven’t covered him yet. But we will, eventually. Yeah, that is interesting. So, it sounds like they also kind of found a niche with their horror. Like, you mentioned three horror projects in a row there it sounds like they’ve done, so…um, maybe that’s their thing. I don’t know, we’ll probably see more from them in the future, and maybe we’ll look back at this and see it as like a slight misstep in an otherwise good career. I don’t know. It will be interesting to kind of track that.
Sara: For sure.
James: Okay, so let’s move into spoilers. We’re just going to let loose here. We’re going to try to move chronologically, but I think it’s going to get pretty extreme, so…
Luke: Yeah, we’ll jump around, but yeah, we’re going to be full spoilers for the entire film, so if you haven’t seen it, and you care about that, now’s the time to stop and maybe return after you do see the movie.
James: We’re moving chronologically, so let’s start right away. Jud’s character change.
James: And the way that Jud is handled in this is he goes from being that father-figure to being kind of just a creepy old man…
that is lurking and looming, and you don’t know what his intentions really are.
Luke: They changed sort of his backstory with Norma. In that she was the one that he brought back. I think that was an okay change, honestly, because it brought that closer to him person…I mean, I can see why they did it. Like, rather than have him…the Timmy stuff all got basically erased. It’s referenced, and that’s about it. But that was our main source of…but then it felt like they dropped the ball a little bit. Like, because they needed to explain that and explain what happened more, I think.
Sara: We had Google, though. We just had to go Google-search it.
James: That’s right. That brings me to clichés, and this movie had numerous. But we gotta work on our clichés in horror film-making because…
James: …the kid drawing a creepy image and then the parent finding it has to go. That can’t be in any more movies.
Sara: Oh my gosh, yeah.
Luke: In defense of that, that’s a trope that I can enjoy when done well. But if you’re going to do it, you have to show me something truly creepy. You can’t just show me a sloppy stick figure with some red coming out of its head. Like, come on…
James: It’s so…to me, that…doing the drawing at this point is just like…I think it’s just a red flag for saying I’m not trying that hard.
Sara: It didn’t do anything. Like, it didn’t serve any other purpose. They were just like…
James: Yeah, it’s creepy. Right.
Luke: And every one of these things is just reminding me of something else I didn’t like. So, that reminds me of Victor Pascow, and I was very frustrated with the way that character was used in this movie. They…it was so heavy-handed. He even says, at one point…early on, he says, “You helped me, so I’m going to try to help you.” Or something like that.
Luke: And, I’m like, you can’t just come out and say that. Like, it removes all mystery of this semi-haunting that Victor does, right? Even if that’s the subtext, you can’t just say it. Come on.
James: The other thing that I didn’t understand is that he haunts just everyone in this, at one point or another. He shows up to every character.
Luke: Ellie does see him in the book, too, right?
James: In her dreams, though.
Luke: In her dreams, yeah.
James: Right, but in the real world, everyone is seeing Victor Pascow. And they never met him before.
Sara: Yeah, and I didn’t like that he was, like, a token actor of color, and he’s our only person of color in this film, and he gets killed right away.
Sara: I thought that was kind of, I don’t know, like they were trying to be inclusive, but they did it in a really cliché way.
Luke: It’s bad because, like, yeah, it is a little bit of tokenism. But if the director had been good, I don’t know that I would look at that as critically, because I would be like, “Oh, it’s cool that they did that,” but…and the character worked and was good. But instead, the character was bad, so it just highlights that it was a bad choice.
Sara: Exactly. Exactly.
Luke: And we could have seen some more characters…people of color. It definitely could have happened. And they just didn’t do it, so… It just further highlights the problem.
Luke: But, yeah, I think the elephant in the room we have to mention is the biggest change, and that is Gage not being the one not hit by the truck, and it being Ellie. Right? That was the big twist, and we gotta talk about it.
James: I wanna hear Sara’s thoughts on this first.
Sara: Ha ha. Okay. I guess that’s what everybody kind of saw in the trailer that I missed by not watching the trailers.
Luke: Was that revealed in the trailer? I didn’t notice…
Sara: I think so.
James: It was. And the posters.
Luke: Oh my goodness!
Sara: Yeah. See, I isolate myself from spoilers, because I hate them so much, so I was like flying out of my seat during that. But it was…oh man, there’s just so much you could talk about with it. It’s one of those things that could have been really interesting. They could have played off her connection with Church. They could have made it a little more…I don’t know. Like, you could take the creepy little girl cliché and twist it on its head and do something different with it, and they just didn’t. There wasn’t enough time of grief. We didn’t feel it. There was no funeral scene like in the book with…and that’s where…that’s where I had to put the book down.
Luke: There was a brief one, but it didn’t touch me in any way.
Sara: Yeah, like, the book…as someone who has lost a parent, when I read that book, when I read that funeral scene, my gosh, I feel all of this. I know how much Louis is grieving, how much the family is grieving. And the movie just…yeah, there’s just that kind of scene where you see the casket getting buried. There is no grieving period to connect with these characters. But again, Ellie herself, who was played by a good actor, she could have done so much more than what they gave us. They could have made it an interesting women’s focal point, too, especially since they do so much with Rachel and Zelda. So, it’s all there, like you said earlier, there’s the skeleton of a really good story, but it’s assembled in these sloppy pieces without a strong narrative arc on it.
Luke: Yeah, I completely agree with that. Yeah, I mean…when I first suspected they were going to do this, and then it happened, I was like, “Okay, so it’s kind of a twist, and maybe they’re doing it to shock viewers of the previous movie or readers of the book.” But then, I’m like, “Okay, if you’re going to make this major change, you’re going to have to demonstrate that you’re doing it for a reason, and that you’re doing it well.” Instead, they just leaned heavily into that creepy girl trope. And we’ve been talking about clichés. The idea of the creepy girl…it’s been done so many times, and Gage…we haven’t seen as many of that, right? We haven’t seen as many creepy boy toddlers, and I get that there can be some limitations with actors…
James: I think there are a bunch of those creepy toddler-type things, too, though.
Sara: Yeah, there’s definitely both.
Luke: You’re right. So, I guess either way, you potentially could run into a cliché, but I feel like the girl one is a little bit more cliché. Is that safe to say?
James: I mean, I see what you’re saying. I agree with you.
Luke: With like The Ring, and I don’t know, just so many of these movies.
James: Yeah, but like on the other side, there’s like The Omen and like, I feel like Children of the Corn is just all creepy children.
Luke: Right. Okay, so fair enough. No matter what, you’re going to potentially hit a cliché. But you just have to do it well, right? To overcome a cliché, you just have to do something different with it, and put a spin on it. I think the book does that. The movie fails to.
James: Yeah. So, I didn’t hate the decision…ultimately, I didn’t like the execution, but I didn’t hate the decision to switch it over, because I had seen the trailers, and I knew they were going to do it. If they had executed it well, I think it would have been an interesting twist, and I think that people would have appreciated it for the fact that it was different, but yeah…I mean, Gage had nothing to do in this story. There were like two scenes that I did like, and I think they did work for me with Ellie being…possessed or whatever she was. One was when she was lying in the bed initially with Louis, and he’s like, “Go to sleep,” and they were both lying there. I kind of liked that. It was kind of fun.
Luke: Yeah, and she kind of stared at him and wouldn’t close her eyes. That was creepy. I agree.
James: And then we’ve talked about the bathtub…the bathtub’s a great scene.
Sara: Yeah, that was a nice…that’s like the only time we ever see anything wrong with her. That bugged me a lot, too, like…in the book, Louis goes…he waits those couple of days, and he’s so torn about the decision to dig up Gage and take him to the cemetery, and Gage is covered in moss. He has that moss growing on him, his face is all torn apart from being hit by the truck, but in the movie they just made it so safe. They made Ellie look perfect and pretty in the casket. That took away a lot for me, too, like I understand…you know, it’s a child, people don’t want to go there, but do it. Go there. See what that does.
James: Yeah, and so in terms of imagery with this movie, I think that they pulled a lot of punches. I think that the actual truck hitting Ellie…there’s like no blood. It was just in the grass. We couldn’t see anything. And, like you said, Sara, I don’t think people want to see that kind of stuff, but this is supposed to be a really grotesque movie and moment, and yeah, when she’s in the grave, there’s like nothing on her, and it reminds me of seeing something else recently. In Hereditary, they did a great job of just, like, children in peril and showing…without spoiling anything…showing graphic things.
James: And I feel like, after seeing that, and coming to this…like you said, it’s very safe.
Sara: And if you’re going into a rated-R, Stephen King-inspired movie, I think you can expect things to maybe get a little gritty, but…they just didn’t do that. And they also didn’t, like…in the book when Gage comes back, he’s swearing at Jud before he kills him. He’s saying all these things, telling him that Norma was a whore and all this stuff, and it’s really disturbing because it’s coming out of this two-year-old kid’s mouth. And they didn’t do anything with that either, when Ellie comes back. They actually had her morph into Norma’s adult face to say anything that was even just a little risqué, and it wasn’t even that risqué. So, that was just kind of disappointing, too, that they just didn’t go there at all with it.
Luke: Yeah, and so just to touch real quick on the blood and the lack thereof, it does feel like…it directly goes against what the book is about. Because, to me, the book was very honest about the ugliness of death that our society wants to ignore, right? And we get all that stuff about being an undertaker and the stuff they deal with, and how they arrange the bodies and how it had to be a closed casket. It was a big part of the book because Gage was so messed up in there when they had the wake. And to take all of that and ignore it, and to have a child get hit by a truck and have them be just like a pristine corpse for unknown reasons, yeah, it totally…it’s not just like they’re failing to go there, but also to me it’s going away from what I thought was the heart of this book. And, so it’s very frustrating, I guess, on multiple levels.
Sara: Yeah. I agree with that.
Luke: So, that reminds me a little bit of…so, the Ellie stuff, and the way she sort of embodied Norma connects to the Wendigo, which I think we definitely gotta talk about, because that was a big thing for me too, that it was very different in the movie, right?
James: I really thought they were going to go there. And, like, I guess when I was walking into the movie, I still believed that they were going to go there. And they really limped on that one.
Luke: Yeah. It’s just like lip service to the Wendigo, right?
James: A mention.
James: Did you get a good look at him in the woods, because I definitely did not.
Sara: No. Not at all.
Luke: No. There’s like a shape. Like a dark, shadowy shape. And I thought that was like…Okay, so at that point in the movie, I was still hopeful, you know. They’d done some things wrong, but I was like, “Man, if they can really nail this final act, then this movie could land for me and still be, like, this was a good movie.” And one of the things, when I saw that shape moving in the darkness, I was like, “Ooh, this could be cool.” Because if the Wendigo’s great, and like really scary, and we talked about it in the book…like, bizarre and Lovecraftian and kind of other-worldly. If they can somehow sell that to me, and then we can imagine that thing is what’s inside Ellie, then that makes Ellie immediately more frightening, right?
Luke: So, I was like, “Yeah, this is going to work.” And then they don’t do it at all, and then when Ellie is sort of possessed, I feel like…I feel sorry for people who are seeing this without any reference material, because I don’t think you understand what is going on. Like, why is she this kind of twisted evil version? Is it a demon? I guess so. I don’t know.
Sara: Great. Yeah.
Luke: Yeah, and the specific scene of him seeing that 60-foot, you know, crazy-looking Wendigo and then knowing that’s what’s in Gage made Gage so much more frightening in the book than anything we get from Ellie.
James: I can’t believe we didn’t even get glowing yellow eyes or anything.
Luke: I know, right, come on!
Sara: It’s just lame, like…I don’t know, I didn’t feel anything. I was just kind of laughing at a lot of it eventually.
James: And that’s one thing I wanted to say, in my theater, I was, you know…I don’t know how familiar these people were with the material, but they were laughing. And I’m like, I can’t believe people are laughing at Stephen King’s work. I mean, I know it’s not his rendition of it, but it’s just funny to see that people were laughing out of sheer…the fact that they couldn’t take it seriously.
Sara: Mmhmm, yep.
Luke: I don’t think they’d be laughing at the novel, honestly. These are separate things, and we have to remember that. We have to try not to let the adaptations affect our love of the source, right? Like, this is something we encounter sometimes on this podcast. It’s an unfortunately side effect in reality, though, but sometimes it does. Because more people will probably see a movie than read the book. That’s just often the case. And so, often, people will bring that baggage into it, and it’s kind of unfortunate. Which, by the way, since we’re giving away the novels, yeah, definitely, check out the novel if you haven’t read it, because I think it’s a stronger experience, and if you’re looking for some genuine, I don’t know, explorations of grief and fright and all this stuff, you’re going to get a lot more of that in the novel.
James: With this movie now coming out, and knowing this source material and everything, we’re going to get another Pet Sematary adaptation at some point. And I hope, at that point, they pull it off. You know. If they get to do it again…please, whoever gets to make it, just lean into all the weirdness, lean into all the grief, lean into all the characters. Lean into the characters, please, because this one didn’t have a lot of character.
Sara: Yeah, the character development was almost non-existent. It was…even with the Wendigo, too, like…King doesn’t do that much with it in the book. It’s just there in little snippets, so if you’re going to remake this into another movie, you could really play off of that and just do more with the supernatural part, too, and make it completely different.
Luke: Yeah, and that’s what I thought we were going to get. Like, I was really hoping for that. And, so when they go into the…what I guess I’m going to call the Mi’kmaq burial grounds…once they go over the deadfall, and they go into this other area.
James: They purposely didn’t call it the Mi’kmaq burial grounds in this one, and they made a point to say that it was indigenous people found the place as well and fled from it. So, it’s like an ancient power, it’s always been there, it has nothing to do with any sort of Native American stuff, which I thought was a good choice to be more aware.
Luke: I agree.
Luke: So, that area, the burial ground, the ancient whatever-you-want-to-call-it. When they went into it, it was massive. And we get this aerial view of it, right? And we see all this fog everywhere, and this big swamp. And they find these steps that lead up to this set of this, I don’t know, this pinnacle area where you bury, and it seems like a ritual and all this stuff. And I felt like all of that was leading to something that we did not get. And that’s where I was very frustrated, because I was like, “Okay, they’re doing all of this. When he comes back later, we’re going to see some craziness out here.” And I thought this was where we were going to get the artistic, clever CGI. We’re going to get creepiness, we’re going to see stuff in the background. And all we get is one shifting shadow, and that’s it. So, I was very disappointed, because I felt like…it was like they set it up and then they just whiffed.
James: How do you feel about the moment when Louis, like, screams back at the Wendigo? Because I was like, “Oh, that’s kind of funny.”
Sara: I laughed.
James: He’s like freaking out, after he buried her…Ellie…he just screams back at the Wendigo. It was pretty wild.
Sara: Yeah. I laughed, I was cackling. It was just…unnecessary.
Luke: Aw, man, I’m very frustrated with the way that went down, but I don’t want to linger on it too long. Let’s talk about something that I did like. I would be curious to see if you two liked this part or not. Because I’m not 100% sure that it was necessarily great, but I liked it. And that was…not necessarily everything they did with Zelda, but a lot of what they did with Zelda. And the genuine-to-me horror of Rachel hearing the noise, like, in the roof, and then the moment when she looks behind the medicine cabinet and Zelda falls down. That was all, like, genuinely frightening and creepy to me. And it was all added, right? Like, that doesn’t happen in the book, not really. Not in that way. It worked for me. I’d be curious to know if it worked for you two.
Sara: I felt very conflicted about that. Like, in a way, it was creepy, and maybe if I didn’t know what happened in the book, I would have liked it more. But I guess in the book, just her watching Zelda choke to death really unsettled me a lot, and the fact that the movie just kind of took that away and had her fall down the dumbwaiter instead, I guess I was comparing them too much in my head to really appreciate what the movie did. But looking back and listening to you talk about it now, I think I can appreciate it a little bit more. Especially when she’s having a flashback with the medicine cabinet. That was a little unsettling, yeah. I think I probably laughed the first time, but then the second time it kind of came up again, and I was like, “Okay, this could have worked.” And I did like some of the focus on Rachel and Zelda, too. That could have been done in a more focused way. It could have been even more interesting if they had…earned it, I guess. I feel like most of this movie just tries to give us things that they didn’t really earn in their storytelling. This is what I tell my students all the time, too. Like, you can’t just throw in a spooky scene or a gross-out scene if the rest of the story doesn’t build up to that. It doesn’t earn that payoff.
James: I was also mixed on the Zelda stuff, because I do see what you’re saying with the creepiness. I think I was more into the stuff when she was a child, and you know, when she was using the dumbwaiter. That stuff I think I liked. The crawling on the ceiling stuff is another cliché that I don’t know that I love anymore.
James: Where it’s just like noises above you or something. And it does work to build the tension, but the actual scene in the bathroom with the medicine cabinet, that worked for me. Where she, like, slammed it, and there was nothing behind it but the medicine as it, like, creaked back open.
Luke: Because I was waiting for the other cliché of, like, someone’s in the mirror when you close it, or when you open it, you see them at an angle. And that’s what I thought we were going to get, but instead having it be this dumbwaiter entrance was surprising. So, I guess that’s why it worked for me. It was a genuine surprise. But I agree about the Rachel stuff…the Rachel and Zelda stuff in the book is more subtle, and it focuses more on the relationship of these sisters, and the horrific nature of the disease and the disease that claims her. Having her fall down a dumbwaiter is very improbable, right?
Luke: And it seems like…it’s flashier, and it’s obviously done for the reason that they wanted to create these scenes with these dramatic parts happening in them. So, I can see if it’s too obviously contrived, then that can hit you in the wrong way, and I definitely get that.
James: So, this brings up an interesting point about production note stuff that I read. According to one of the directors, Kölsch, he said that Zelda’s death change was based on a news story that they read about a waitress who fell into a dumbwaiter and broke her neck the first week on the job. He said the idea of dying that way was just so horrendous to me that we said, “You know what? What if we tried to do more with this?” He said, “This still chills me when I think about it.” I don’t know if that changes anything for you or if it makes you feel conflicted about it, but I thought that was an interesting thing to know.
Sara: It is creepy, yeah. I don’t know how I feel about, “Oh, I’m just going to put this in my movie now,” but I can understand the inspiration.
Luke: It worked for me ultimately, but I can see some hesitancy in why, and I understand it, but that was…I just wanted to try and highlight things that did work for me in this movie, because I feel like we’re mostly talking about negative things, right?
James: Yeah. Ultimately, I think the addition of some of the Zelda stuff and being more close to Rachel’s POV, that stuff worked for me. I feel like even more so than the book, because it’s so close to Louis. We really got to understand Rachel’s grief and why she felt the way that she did. But then I feel they pulled the rug out from us when, I think the whole point is, Rachel’s dealing…she can’t deal with death because of what happened when she was a kid. And when we start the novel, Louis is…he just accepts death for what it is. But ultimately, when put up against that situation, he can’t stand by his word. He can’t handle the grief, and he can’t live with the death of someone he loves, so he does bring someone back. And I think the rug that got pulled out from underneath us was when Ellie drags Rachel’s dead body into the burial ground in order to bring her back, instead of Louis making the decision for a second time.
Sara: Yeah. That was goofy to me, too.
Luke: Yeah. It’s like, you can see it coming as soon as it happens, and it was so fast, too. Because we get the moment where Rachel says, “Don’t bury me there.” And then immediately it happens. And I was like, “Come on. You gotta give it a little space to breathe and ‘Oh, my God, it’s gonna happen’ rather than just immediately hitting us with it happening.” I don’t know.
Sara: Yeah, I agree. It was…the ending was probably my least favorite part.
James: The very end with the family walking out?
Luke: It wasn’t Louis’s choice. It was…so, her telling Louis that…I don’t know, if he had gone against her wishes, it would have been more profound, and we would have hated him for it in a way. But instead, it’s like he doesn’t do it. It’s Ellie. It’s all Ellie, so…or the Wendigo through Ellie.
Sara: I guess.
James: I definitely did not enjoy the ending like I wanted to. I also felt like, when Ellie became possessed, and she’s running around, it just felt like a lot of other horror movies that I’ve seen before. This kind of like, jumping out and slashing Jud’s…which, again, I think was a nod to the movie, was the slashing the Achilles’…kind of slashing the ankle?
James: I don’t know. What was the point of it? I don’t really understand. It was kind of creepy. The masks, too.
Sara: Oh, yeah. I could have…you know, as far as the changes go, I could have bought that one, but when you put that with everything else they changed, it was just like, “Oh, okay.”
Luke: You’re talking about the children’s masks that they would wear and then her having that at the end? Yeah. You nailed this in our coverage, James. You said, like, “Eh, they probably just added it for the trailer.”
Luke: And I think that was exactly it. They wanted to have those scenes of the kids walking through the woods, put it in the trailer…
James: Because it’s kind of creepy. It is kind of creepy, but then you have to execute on that.
Luke: You have to do something with it. They did nothing with it.
Luke: And I was very frustrated on that, too. And then you have her having the mask was, like, the “payoff.” I guess. It wasn’t even…like, she didn’t wear it, really, right? It was just in her robe…
James: She wore it. When she was killing Jud, she was wearing it.
James: Then she pulled up the mask and…
Luke: Oh yeah, you’re right, you’re right.
James: Norma’s face was there.
Luke: Yeah, like, come on, you gotta do a little more than that. That feels like they were just, “Oh yeah, remember those masks…here we go, let’s bring them back at the end for one scene for no real reason.” Yeah, that was frustrating.
Sara: Yeah. The ending just…like you said, James, it’s like so many other horror movies that we’ve seen. There’s this, what, zombie family at the end, right?
James: Oh boy, that was the part that really put the nail in the coffin for me. When they all walked out, I was like, “Is this the end?” It felt more, rather than it being like the decision was made by the character, it just felt like this curse that was going to spread now. Like, they were going to get Gage, and they were going to continue to just move, and the Wendigo would overtake everyone, which is not really kind of what I was feeling like the book was trying to get across at all.
Sara: Right! The book is very personal, and this was just…not personal.
Luke: Yeah. And we see the zombie family is burning evidence at the end, I guess is why the house is on fire? And that was frustrating, because that was Louis…you know what I mean, almost going as far as he needed to go, but then falling just short, because he can’t part with Rachel. So they completely changed that in a way that just frustrates me. And, speaking of those changes, I think the motivation of Louis was sorely lacking when it came to bringing back Ellie. And it just felt so silly. It was like, “Why would you do this? This is obviously a bad idea.” And I remember talking about it in our book coverage. King does so much work to sell this decision to us. There’s so much of him rationalizing things, and coming up with…he has this whole plan of, “I’m going to try it, and I’m going to see what happens, and if it doesn’t work out, I’m going to take care of it, and no one ever has to know.” But it’s like it’s worth it to me just to give it a shot and see what happens. And like, the rationalizing just really works for me to where I was finally at the point where I was like, “I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it’s hard for me to 100% say I would never make that same choice.” Whereas, in the movie, it’s rushed, he just does it. It seems like the stupidest thing you could ever do. And I could imagine just being very frustrated with it as an audience-goer who has never read the book or anything. Why the hell would he ever do that?
Sara: Right? And even in the book, like, I like that Church was his secret, and that they were away when all this happened. Because then it really showed Louis’s…what he knew and what they didn’t. Kind of, he has this whole other experience, and the movie didn’t play off that at all. Like, you know, he has that whole internal conflict of, “Okay, Church came back different, but he’s okay. He’s not quite as vicious as he was in the movie. He’s just there eating mice and birds, terribly and viciously.” But that whole internal conflict is just gone in the movie, and without that, we can’t relate to it, we can’t justify anything that Louis does, and that really was what the movie should have spent more time on rather than some flashy fog and whatever else they added…the masks. If they would have spent more time on that…
James: The fog machines.
Luke: I stand by the fact that the fog machines were overused in this movie.
James: I think it can work in some instances. I was fine with the fog, honestly. I understand why you think it was a lot, but like…I don’t know. In a better movie, I wouldn’t have even noticed, really.
Luke: I think there’s a couple times where you’re in a scene where there’s no fog, and then some kind of blows in from the side. And it always looked silly to me, because I could just imagine the machine sitting there.
James: Yeah, some PA off to the side like pfft.
Luke: Yeah. And I know that ground fog is a thing. It does happen, but I feel like it also looks kind of different than what we got here. I don’t know. It just didn’t sell it on…the authenticity of the ground fog didn’t quite land for me. But, oh, real quick, before we get away from it, another standout performance…I gotta give it to him…the cat. Church the cat.
Luke: I thought he was good. I mean, come on, that tie he wore to the premiere was just…
Luke: Super adorable.
James: It was awesome, yeah.
Luke: So, I actually saw Captain Marvel the day before seeing this, which also prominently features a cat.
Sara: Oh, yeah.
James: Somebody took a picture of each of the cats and was like, “Who was best at their premier?”
Luke: Who wore it better?
James: Who wore it best kind of thing.
Sara: That’s amazing. I love that.
Luke: Because they both wore little ties, right?
James: Right. Yeah.
Luke: So, I had to compare cat performances, and I liked both, but I think I can give it to Church here. I think I liked…I think the cat made more sense in this movie, and…I don’t know, I really liked Church in this movie.
James: So, what you’re saying is you’re giving props to like five different cats, I want you to know.
James: Because I think there were five cats.
Sara: There were a couple.
Luke: Really? Oh, I thought it was all one cat.
James: But they did a great job. I think each one had a specific thing they were trained to do. Like one was going to be creepy. One was going to the playful, happy one. So…but I think yeah, as far as cat performances, we gotta give them…
Luke: And the way the animal was used is also what I’m shouting out, right?
Luke: The use of the animal narratively how it threaded in there, I thought it was good.
James: Right. And that shot on the road when he’s driving away, of the mangled, nasty-looking Church. That’s a great shot.
Sara: It was.
James: It looked creepy, and it worked well for the marketing and everything.
Luke: Yeah. I mean, that cat is on every piece of marketing we see, basically, right?
Luke: So, yeah, definitely delivered there.
Sara: And Church was even part of the family at the very end. They’re all there. Even the cat.
Luke: Yeah, that’s true.
James: That’s the other thing. Not putting down Ellie or Church again is also a weird change. Because yeah, I just feel like they’re a zombie family now. I think actually having Church die and actually having Ellie die makes Rachel coming back…I don’t know, I just feel like there’s way more weight to the idea that he is killing people and bringing people back willy-nilly at this point.
Luke: And Louis is alive at the end of the novel.
Luke: Like a living, normal person who’s just…has done all these things and now has to be reckoned with his choices, right?
Luke: And faced with his choices. And we don’t get that, because he’s like mercifully killed, I think, and it saves him from having to deal with it. And at the end I guess we see Gage who’s faced with the zombie family, but he doesn’t know what’s happening, so he doesn’t have to deal with the consequences. He didn’t make it happen. He’s just caught up in it.
James: Right. The idea that Louis went through all this, and his comeuppance was just dying. It wasn’t that he had anything more in store or any sort of like cursed life.
Sara: Right. There’s no consequences. There’s nothing to be learned. Like, when you go out of the film, what are you supposed to have really learned from it? Are we supposed to be creeped out? Like, is there some kind of parallel to real life like you get in the book, where you can understand that? I just left this movie and was like, “All right. Thanks.”
James: So, I had a couple other little things that I wanted to talk about. The decision to start with the wreckage, and ultimately where we ended up. What did you think of that? Because, seeing the fire and coming in that aerial shot over top of the house? Did you think that was weird, or how did you feel about that?
Sara: It was fine, but I’ve seen it before. Maybe. I’d be curious if you hadn’t read the book, maybe you would have a different thought to it.
Sara: But if you know what’s coming, then you’re kind of like, “Okay, horror movies sometimes do this. They just start with the end and then tell it in reverse.”
Luke: I think it’s kind of a cliché, but it can be done well. To me, it got me kind of excited, because I recognized the elements of the book. I was like, “Ooh, they’re leading to the same place,” you know? But then it ended up disappointing me because I felt like I had been cheated a little bit. Because I thought the beginning was telling me as a book reader, “There may be some changes here, but we’re leading to the same result.”
Luke: Instead, that’s not what we got.
James: I looked at it kind of favorably. The first shot opening in this looming shot of the wreckage made me feel like it was the POV of the Wendigo. That’s, like, where my head went, and kind of like this massive aerial shot of everything and the looming creature. I was like, “Oh, wow, this might be really interesting,” and I don’t think that paid off, but that was my initial reaction to that first shot.
Sara: I like that interpretation. Yeah, it’s a shame it didn’t carry throughout.
Luke: Yeah. Ooh, I did want to shout out one other thing I liked. So, there was a scene where Rachel comes home and is faced with the reality that Louis has brought back their daughter, and the two living characters have to have a moment where they, you know, are at odds with each other, and she’s faced with the horror of what he’s done. He is found out in this secret he’s been hiding, and I really like that scene. And that’s a scene that’s not in the book. And I think to bring it into the movie is a nice thing. It’s like an alternate version of the story. We see what happens when these two characters are faced with each other in full knowledge of what happened. And, so I just wanted to give them props for that scene. I like that it was there. I don’t necessarily like everything that happened after or before that, but that moment I did like.
Sara: Yeah, the tension was pretty good there.
James: The hug that Ellie gives Rachel…I thought Rachel did a great job in that scene, as well. Where Ellie’s hugging her, and she won’t hug her back, and she’s immediately refusing this kid, and kind of the tension that was built up when Ellie ran up the stairs…I’m sorry, when Rachel ran up the stairs, and Ellie was like, “She doesn’t want me here.” I actually felt like that was pretty powerful. Just the idea that you’re like, “Oh, shit. This creature’s not going to be happy that she immediately saw through this fake Ellie.”
Luke: And that’s completely different from what happens in the book. Because Rachel, when she first sees Gage, goes in for the hug, even after everything else that’s happened.
Luke: Which, I don’t know, is good in a different way, I guess. But I agree. I actually did like the sort of refusal to hug, too. Maybe this version of Rachel it made more sense for.
James: So, Stephen King proposed an alternate ending because he saw a screener of this movie before it came out.
James: His ending is, which I don’t know how he openly feels about the movie…it seems like he’s been standing by it a whole lot.
Luke: I mean, he stands by a lot of this stuff. When somebody’s adapting your work, you stand behind it. That’s kind of just the way it goes.
James: I don’t know, though. I mean, historically…
Luke: Other than The Shining.
Sara: Yeah! That’s really something.
James: So, maybe it has something to do with his age or, like, where he’s at with his stories and stuff.
James: But yeah, he’s standing beside this one. I think…like you said…it’s what you do. You just kind of want everybody to see it, and maybe that will make them revisit the actual source material you wrote.
So, in his proposed alternate ending, Gage is walking up the middle of the road, dawn is approaching, and a truck is heard coming. And this is a quote, “And think, oh my God, he’s going to get grease in the road. That’s how this is going to end.” Then, at the last second a woman pulls him out of the road and rescues him and says, “Where is your mommy and daddy?” And that’s how you end the thing. But this isn’t what they showed.
James: So, instead of the zombie family rolling out, he has Gage wandering around and some random woman finds him.
Luke: It’s actually more hopeful.
Sara: Yeah. I guess I don’t really care for either.
James: I agree. I don’t either.
Luke: Yeah. King has another alternate ending, and that’s the one he wrote in the book. <laughing>
Sara: I like that one!
James: Yeah, I agree. But, yeah, I just thought it was interesting that he was going to go that far as to say that would be a better ending. I didn’t think it was…I don’t know, that also feels like a cliché.
Luke: Well, maybe it also kind of highlights that maybe he did…maybe as much as he’s standing behind it, maybe he wasn’t a huge fan of the way it ended.
James: Yeah. Sara, is there anything we missed that you wanted to say?
Sara: I guess just generally I feel like in the book, so much of it is about your own mind and your own emotional and psychological being. Like, you’re constantly playing off the dark places that your own mind creates. And we didn’t get that in the movie. There’s really no chance for you to relate to the characters and kind of have your own connection with them and have your mind play off those things. So, I guess that’s for me what made it so much less scary in the movie was that my mind didn’t get to go to the dark places on its own, like it did in the book.
James: That was the main thing for me, too. I wasn’t connected to the…and I think that’s something with more forgettable horror movies that you get where it’s just [insert male character], [insert female character] and then have a bunch of scary stuff happen. And I feel like we didn’t get the guilt, we didn’t get the character connections, Jud was this creepy guy just for the sake of being creepy rather than being this father-figure that you care about that tends to make the right decision, and then makes the wrong decision when push comes to shove.
Luke: This all reminds me of one thing I did want to say about this. So, we talk a lot about story seeds when we cover these things, right? I love to find out what was the impetus for the story. What started it all? And I think for people who are adapting movies, you’d be well served to look at that seed and make sure you’re connecting with sort of the heart of the story. And, for me, one of the seeds when you read…King talks about it…his own son was wandering toward the road, and he ran over and was able to grab him before he got hit at the last second. Or maybe he tripped…he doesn’t know. For whatever reason, he was able to prevent this from happening, and then he was faced with the horror of imagining what would it have been like had I failed to do that? And had my son got hit by a truck, right? And so that frustrates me when I think about that moment and that being the heart of the story, because you look at what they did with Ellie, and Louis runs out, and he successfully grabbed Gage and saves him from the truck. And then the truck, in sort of a, like, almost fated way, falls…a piece of it flies off, and almost final-destination sort of fashion, runs over Ellie. And to me it felt like it was…he couldn’t have ever prevented it, it was going to happen, right? And that robs the scene of the personal horror of coming so close to saving your son and then failing at the last moment. And, instead, it’s like he successfully saved his son, but then Ellie is just kind of killed by a force that he had no way to prevent. And to me that’s a really frustrating subversion of that, and at the heart of the story, that’s one of the major conflicts…and when we talk about the grief. It makes it so personal for Louis, and instead that’s all stripped away. I don’t know, it’s something that I feel like was a big miss, and a lot of the failures of the movie are kind of born out of that decision.
Sara: That’s a good point. I agree.
James: So, it’s interesting, because I think they got caught up in making things different. I think they were like, “What are audiences expecting?” And all they wanted to do was subvert expectations, but they didn’t stop to ask why enough, maybe?
James: You know what I mean, like you were saying, that kind of getting away from what the actual beginning and what this story is really about. I think there are ways to subvert expectations and, yeah, it just gets me thinking about these adaptations, and I think that people get too worried that, if they don’t change the story enough, it won’t be their own story. But you can follow…you can adapt something and be very similar to the source material and still put your own spin, your own tone, and your own atmosphere on it.
James: I don’t know, I think that I’ve seen it done really well a lot. And it’s a bummer when people are not able to pull it off.
Sara: Yeah, that happened with Carrie, too, the newer one. The remake of the remake.
Sara: They tried. They…uh, don’t bother. They tried almost to make it a little more modern, but they didn’t change anything almost. It was just so incredibly boring. You could do so much to make a different, modern Carrie, but they just…I felt they failed epically at that. So, again, I don’t know what it is about Stephen King movies and remakes that makes people lose their minds, but I believe someday someone will give us something worthy. That’s what I’m hoping.
Luke: Well, we both, at least, and I’d be curious to know just briefly your take on this, as it’s a completely different movie, but we both enjoyed the new It version. The modern retelling of that, I guess if you want to call it that. And we’re going to get part 2 later this year, which we will be covering on the podcast, so it will be interesting to revisit that project. Did you like that at all?
Sara: I thought it was okay. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it. I was pretty much in the middle of it. But I…I’ll be interested to see what they do with Part II. I just didn’t like what they did with Bev’s story line, compared to the book.
Luke: Oh, I could see that. Yeah, yeah.
Sara: Yeah? If they make her more proactive and make her more centered, like she was in the book, for the second part, maybe I’ll be more interested in it.
James: I think with Jessica Chastain, you have to do that. She’s…
Sara: Awesome, awesome, awesome.
James: They’re going to kill it. I hope.
Sara: The casting’s great for it, so I’m very excited.
Luke: We’re very excited. If you like Stephen King, definitely stick around, because we’ll be back for It: Chapter 2. I think we’re going to actually re-watch the mini-series, because I’ve never seen it in its entirety. So, I think we’re going to re-watch the mini-series, do an episode on that, and then we’ll come back for It: Chapter 2. That will also just kind of remind us of everything. So, yeah, definitely stick around for that. Also, we wanted to announce we’re going to be covering Two Towers by Tolkien next. So, very different sort of project, but if you like classics in genre, I guess, then you can come back for that. We did Fellowship earlier last year, and we’re going to be coming back for Two Towers next.
James: Yeah, and if you listened to our Fellowship coverage, you know how massive this world is for me. And Luke, actually.
Luke: Yeah, yeah.
James: So, we’re excited to get back into it.
Luke: Yeah, and so if you wanted to find Sara online, where can they find you?
Sara: I’m on Twitter @sarajane524. My website is SaraTantlinger.com. I’m on Instagram @inkychaotics. And I have an Amazon author page, so all my work is up there.
Luke: That’s awesome. So, yeah, make sure to follow her on all those platforms and read those poetry collections, and yeah…you’re going to be at StokerCon coming up this year, too. So, if you happen to go to that convention, you might see her around.
Sara: Yep, come say hi.
Luke: This has been so much fun having you on Sara. Thank you for joining us. It’s always kind of a bummer when the movie isn’t just great, right? But it’s still a fun conversation to have. I think it went to some cool places, and hopefully people enjoyed it. I know there are going to be some people who loved this movie. Like there always are. And there are going to be some people who hated it way more than we did, and think that we were too nice, you know? That always happens. So, hopefully you still enjoyed the conversation wherever you fall on that spectrum.
Sara: Yeah, thank you for having me. This was really great to just kind of talk about it with other people and go in depth with all the different things that they did.
James: Definitely. Thank you so much for coming on.
Luke: We wanted to thank Jamie D. for being a patron of ours, and if you want to become a patron yourself, go to Patreon.com/InkToFilm, and you can see all the things we are offering, including bonus content like our upcoming bonus episode on Pet Sematary, the 1989 version. I can go ahead and announce we are going to do it, right?
James: Thank you to Jamie. We really appreciate your support. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, all of those @InkToFilm. And join our Council of Inklings. We post polls for potential projects we want to do, and we post adaptation news. And I’m trying to be more active in there, so…
Luke: Yeah, see more James posts in the future. Another way you can help the show out is by leaving us a rating and review. If you liked this episode, please do it. And if you’d like to reach out to us directly, you can always send us an email at InkToFilm@gmail.com.
James: Thank you again to Sara for coming on. It was so much fun. We really appreciated having you on.
Luke: Yes, thank you, Sara.
James: Also, thank you to Jennifer Della’Zanna for providing our transcripts. And thank you to Ross Bugden for the use of our intro and outro music.
Luke: All right, Stephen King fans, we will be back in the future for It: Chapter 2, and you can look forward to that. Otherwise, we’re going to be back next week with Two Towers, and we hope you join us for that. Until then…
James: …thanks for listening.