Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is the prequel no one asked for, but we got it anyway. That’s not to say the entirety of the movie is bad, but it misses the mark when it comes to substance. Bloodlines attempts to flesh out the story Jud Crandall tells Louis Creed in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary about a grieving father who brought his dead son back with terrifying consequences. The cautionary tale of Timmy Batterman reinforces the idea that “Sometimes dead is better.” Playing God comes with risks, and the dead don’t return as they were in life—a lesson Louis learns when repeating the same mistake as Timmy’s father.
Trying to expand such a small story is usually a recipe for disaster. Lindsey Anderson Beer and Jeff Buhler’s script had a lot of details to fill in. In Bloodlines, the wise Jud (Jackson White) and his future wife, Norma (Natalie Alyn Lind), are just restless teenagers hellbent on getting out of Ludlow, Maine. The Peace Corps offers a tangible opportunity, but their departure comes to a halt when Timmy Batterman’s (Jack Mulhern) dog attacks Norma. It’s not long after the narrative unravels. What starts as a commentary on the lingering trauma of war turns into a zombie movie that can’t decide who its main character is.
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines Focuses on the Wrong Characters
With Norma confined to the hospital, Jud tries getting to the bottom of Timmy’s strange behavior. Is it a result of the war, or is it something more sinister? After all, Timmy “just stood there” while his dog nearly ripped Norma’s arm off. Jud’s motivation stems from their childhood friendship. Former friend Manny (Forrest Goodluck) also joins Jud on his quest for the very same reason: they once all meant something to each other—or so we are told. Brief flashbacks and grainy photographs aren’t quite enough for an emotional buy-in, yet Bloodlines decides to make the trio its focal point. It’s a questionable decision that even Goodluck’s and White’s earnest performances can’t justify.
Based on Jud’s Pet Sematary story, Bill (David Duchovny), Timmy’s grief-stricken father, should get more attention. After all, his decision to reanimate his dead son kicks off the horrific events to follow. That choice is never given any time in the spotlight. The movie starts with Bill dragging Timmy’s body and burying him, a scene that lacks oomph without any emotional context or familiarity with the source material. The story never lingers on Bill’s conflicted feelings too long. In fact, he barely seems bothered after discovering Timmy chowing down on bloody innards.
A fear of retreading Louis Creed’s acr in Pet Sematary may offer some explanation. Still, it’s a damn shame. The X-Files alum David Duchovny lends star power that unfortunately falls flat. While the movie allows Duchovny to keep the beard Mulder was denied, it fails to give him much else. Even Bill and Timmy’s final encounter occurs off-screen, dampening what should be an emotional climax between father and son.
Gore Gets Spotlighted, Scares Not So Much
Beer is new to the horror genre, and those rookie beginnings show. Bloodlines doesn’t have much in the way of suspense. It relies on jump scares (specifically, the loud blaring horns of trucks), which were done better in Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary. The cinematography makes up for some of this, while gore compensates for a little more. It’s never quite enough to impress. Much like emotional resonance, the majority of deaths occur off-screen.
The highlighted violence seems women-centric, from Norma’s early encounter with the dog and later Donna (Isabella Star LaBlanc) and Majorie’s (Pam Grier) own personal run-ins with Ludlow’s worst secret. Men are victims, too. However, most of them meet their demises off-screen, with the camera returning only for the gruesome aftermath. If Bloodlines is commenting on violence perpetrated against women or even horror’s messy relationship with sex and violence, it’s decidedly unclear from its tone.
Bloodlines’ Starting Theme Is a High Point
King’s original novel is undoubtedly an exploration of grief. It never strays far from the concept. For a Pet Sematary prequel, Bloodlines’ focus on grief is minimal. Instead, it explores trauma, privilege, and dissolving friendships. Thematically, the movie is strongest when leaning into trauma. Timmy’s altered behavior after returning from the grave works wonderfully as a metaphor for PTSD. His family and friends look at him differently. People offer him smiling faces but no actual support. Timmy is a figment of his former self until he acts out in violence.
It’s far from the first time horror has delved into the subject. Jacob’s Ladder made reentering society as a veteran the centerpiece of its storytelling. Bloodlines starts effectively but missteps by removing the focus from Timmy. Choppy editing results in further letdowns that ultimately leave the story lacking. It’s the challenge of any prequel: offering something new while also expanding on the original story in meaningful ways. While Bloodlines shoots for both, its contributions, unfortunately, miss the mark.