Horror Club: Pet Graveyard
Riding off the coat tails of the recently released and widely successful Pet Sematary released this past weekend comes PET GRAVEYARD; and while it may have a name that bears a striking resemblance to the classic Stephen King-based film, Pet Graveyard's only resemblance is in its name. Oh, and the fact that there's a cat (although Graveyard has a Sphinx cat). The story, location, and pretty much everything else is completely its own and not a knock of the big budget film like I've noticed other viewers have commented online (of whom I'm assuming didn't even bother seeing the film). Truth of the matter is Pet Graveyard is an absolutely brilliant film on its own, and definitely deserves credit for bringing an original story with clever twists, a decent cast, an emotionally-driven story and even a great jump scare (that got me!) to the screen. After you find yourself all Pet Sematary'd out, do yourself a favor and rent a copy of Pet Graveyard to hear a quite unsettling story.
Readers beware: possible spoilers ahead! Proceed with caution!
Written by Suzy Spade and directed by Rebecca Matthews, Pet Graveyard follows the story of Lily (Jessica Otoole) and her brother Jeff (David Cotter) as they try to return to normal life after the tragic passing of their mother. Jeff meets two other mourning individuals online - Zara and Daryl - and the three of them agree to try an experiment that may help them come to terms with the loss of their loved ones. Zara lost her younger brother when he was only a child, and Daryl lost his girlfriend in a terrible car accident. In their attempt to reconnect with their deceased loved ones, the trio must do two things: first, they must recite a ritual that helps bring the dead person out of the after life and into a plane in between that of the living and that of the dead; a purgatory, if you will. Second, the living person must physically die (referred to as "brinking"), so that they may transcend into the plane, where they will hopefully come face to face with the deceased. Jeff, Zara and Daryl enlist the help of Lily to help resuscitate the three of them after three minutes of their death, to help pull them out of the purgatory and back into the real world. One by one, the three are suffocated to death and they enter the purgatory realm, where - sure enough - they meet their loved ones. Only problem is - for each of them - something is a little... off. After returning to the physical world, they recall their experiences in purgatory soon after, that's when things begin to go down hill quickly. It seems as though by participating in the ritual and brinking, they sign a pact with the Grim Reaper and after you participate in the act, him and his adorable Sphinx companion come for you next. It becomes a battle for their lives as they attempt to escape both the Reaper and his feline friend.
As Pet Graveyard went underway, I fucking loved the concept of brinking and the idea behind it (yeah, we know this is nothing new as it was used in Flatliners); I feel like this was one of the most clever concepts written into a horror since astral projection was written into the Insidious series of films. Not only is the idea really creative and unsettling, the scenes where the group are actually brinking are excellently executed and also very unsettling: watching each person get suffocated to death by a plastic tarp - as their legs kick, their eyes bulge and their arms flail - will no doubt leave some viewers very on edge, but the scenes are shot really well and actually quite convincing, there's no cheesiness at all. Actually - while we're on the subject - its worth noting that there's no cheese at all when it comes to Pet Graveyard. While the film may be touted by some as a "mockbuster," Pet Graveyard is anything but some cheesy rip off film with low budget effects and lame acting (which we're not knocking - you know we love cheese here at Soulless). In fact, the special effects (namely in the death scenes, the purgatory realm and the Reaper himself) are also exceptionally well done and would totally pass for a bigger budget film.
Is the film flawed? Of coarse there's always going to be something, but with Pet Graveyard it seems like those elements are few and far between. For starters, the name's relevance to the film feels completely lost; unless I missed something, the only connection I can make between the title and the film is that the ritual takes place in a church beside a graveyard, and that the Reaper's cat appears when the Reaper himself is lurking around. At no point (again, unless I missed something) is there any indication that they are even in a pet graveyard or anything like that, so it feels like the title was literally just used to conjure hype off of Pet Sematary (which feels cheap, to be honest). My other - bigger - issue would be that as various characters die off, the film kinda ignores what happens after they're found. In other words, when someone dies, there's no mention of police, investigators, or family members showing up asking what the hell happened to the recently deceased. While I understand it may have added a little extra to the run time, I feel like writing that into the story would make it feel a little more believable. If you can ignore these (and some other small cons) fine details, I honestly think your average horror/paranormal fan would actually enjoy Pet Graveyard quite a bit.
While the film is far from terrifying, I'll have to admit that there is one cleverly placed jump scare where you won't expect it. That's another detail worth mentioning: this isn't a jump scare-heavy production; it feels like the film really relies more on your uneasiness and eeriness than it does on telling a terrifying tale. This film tells a very different story than that of Pet Sematary, and it definitely needs to be reiterated that it only resembles the box office hit in name only, so keep that in mind going into this one. With its surprisingly brutal death scenes and its irresistible feline cast member, Pet Graveyard may not be worth buying a hard copy of, but it's well worth the rental. While there may be moments where the film drags here and there, for the most part, Pet Graveyard will keep your attention and the pay off is worth your time - it was for me, at least. It's a cleverly crafted and eerily executed addition to the indie horror film genre, and it will leave you wondering just where does the line between the living and the dead lie.