Film Reviews: Good (not great) ‘Pet Sematary,’ charming ‘Unicorn Store’
The impossible becomes possible, for a price, in two new movies, one a terrifying big screen re-make/adaptation of a Stephen King masterpiece, the other an original Netflix fantasy directed by and starring Brie Larsen (“Captain Marvel”).
In the latter, “Unicorn Store,” a frustrated art student (Larsen) receives an invitation to a mysterious shop, run by an enigmatic fellow known as The Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson), where deserving patrons’ childhood dreams (like, say, unicorns) are up for grabs, if the “buyer” proves truly worthy.
In “Pet Sematary,” King’s 1983 novel, already brought to the screen by Mary Lambert in 1987, gets a second stab at movie glory, this time directed by Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kolsch (“Starry Eyes”). The story follows a big-city doctor, Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his family, as they move to a small town in Maine, where a rural pet cemetery is purported to be able to bring cats and dogs (and other creatures) back to life.
Here’s what a pair of critics from our pool of local film reviewers have to say about these two new movies.
‘PET SEMATARY’ (R)
The characters who populate Stephen King adaptations clearly live in a world without Stephen King.
I’m not certain how many times I thought, or hissed under my breath (sorry, person in seat D-5), to the characters in “Pet Sematary,” “Why would you do that?”
I suppose that’s the benefit of watching, rather than living, a horror film.
“Pet Sematary” is a solid horror film. It’s creepy, well-scripted and well-acted. I was especially impressed with the three actors who play the Creed children - Jeté Laurence (Ellie), and Lucas and Hugo Lavoie (Gage). And John Lithgow is always a joy to watch.
The movie is also quite visually interesting.
It plays a lot with liminal spaces, barriers you cross to your detriment. They nailed that theme visually with sweeping expanses of forest and sky, sometimes bright and alive, sometimes sour, and with physical doorways that lead to metaphysical spaces.
But while I think it was good, the movie stops short of greatness. It sadly leans on overplayed, culturally insensitive Native American tropes and gives up on the characterization of a key character in the final third, preferring action to the drama and disquiet of the previous hour-and-a-half.
I wish the ending had been stronger, though I mostly enjoyed what came before.
But … you probably shouldn’t go see it before hiking alone in the woods.
I had an incredibly hard time writing this review, not because I didn’t like the movie I saw this week, but because I really loved it, and I could easily write a review three times this size and still have more to say. “Unicorn Store” may not succeed in enchanting everyone who watches it, but it definitely managed to charm me. In fact, “charming” is the word that best encompasses the glitter-packed modern fairytale (aimed at adults), which Brie Larson both stars in and directs.
Side note: it’s a banger year for women directors, and that’s simply awesome on its own.
“Unicorn Store” is genuinely funny, but in a gently satirical way that manages to be stylized without being over the top. The acting is delightful and it’s clear that Brie Larson’s foray into directing was a good fit for this movie that balances whimsy and reality. “Unicorn Store” comes with that special accessory every arrested development tale should have: a message in a metaphor, one I was shocked to find out seems to have gone over the heads of some viewers who mostly couldn’t get past the rainbow-sparkle Lisa Frank-ness of it all. Instead, such critics focus primarily on the (granted, quite voluminous) amounts of glitter, generally shrugging off the story underneath as shallow and promoting a resistance of maturity.
I disagree. “Unicorn Store,” an ode to the wistful dreamers who champion “outside the box” thinking, constantly reminds its audience that dreams alone cannot sustain them. Growth is inevitable and necessary, and Samantha MacIntyre (the writer) hammers it home more than once that dreams and self-indulgence can only take you so far. You yourself have to put in the work, whether it’s physical or emotional, to walk your path and maintain your relationships.
The film is definitely not perfect. The writing, while enjoyable, can sometimes skim past its own plot points. Despite this, “Unicorn Store” is pretty dang good, and will probably become the movie I put on when I need a little emotional boost. It’s a charming, funny, lightly fantastical film about finding a middle ground between dreams and responsibilities that both I and my sixty-four year old father completely enjoyed.