Fantastic Fest: Pet Sematary: Bloodlines (2023)

Director: Lindsey Anderson Beer

Running Time: 87 Minutes

Starring: Jackson White, Forrest Goodluck, Jack Mulhern, Henry Thomas, Natalie Alyn Lind, Isabella Star LaBlanc, Samantha Mathis, Pam Grier, David Duchovny

Ludlow, Maine, 1969. Jud Crandall (Jackson White) plans to leave his hometown to join the Peace Corps with his girlfriend, Norma (Natalie Alyn Lind). At the same time, Jud's old friend Timmy (Jack Mulhern) has returned from the war after being given an honourable discharge. His return uncovers sinister secrets previously buried within the small-town which will severely impact Jud's plans.

Serving as a prequel to 2019's Pet Sematary, co-writer/director Lindsey Anderson Beer expands upon the lore while also building upon previously established themes, such as the destructive consequences of not letting go, and the lengths a parent will take for their child. These are focused upon with how Bill (David Duchovny) had to watch his son be drafted into war, while holding a clear animosity for Jud not being drafted, allegedly due to his father's intervention.

Decent character work captures the small-town divide between generations, as the younger civilians worry about if they will ever leave Ludlow while some of the adults are content with remaining there. Admittedly, some investment is difficult when the work to caring about them feels absent. Take the fractured friendship between Jud, Timmy, and Manny (Forrest Goodluck), which relies on wordless flashbacks selling their past bonds more than the performances of its capable cast. Decent performances breathe life into these characters, particularly with White's likeable presence capturing Jud's struggle to find his calling, although even the most veteran cast members struggle with the appalling dialogue.

When it comes to the horror elements, the stock attempts at scares and chills unfortunately lack effectiveness, although it is worth mentioning that the gore can be decent. It is all part of a muddled work which talks jarring narrative leaps, includes an animal attack flashback very soon after the scene occurs, and has a directionless final act which pads time until the expected occurrence happens. While this straight-to-streaming prequel is not essential viewing, it could have been much worse.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines made its World Premiere at Fantastic Fest 2023, and is available now exclusively on Paramount+