Stephen King’s famous story of the misspelled animal graveyard is exhumed 30 years after its original big-screen adaptation, this time from the producer of the Transformers films and starring Terminator Genysis‘s Jason Clarke. What could possibly go wrong?
A family moves from Boston to a small town, but little do they realise that in the woods behind their house there’s a sinister burial ground which can return the recently deceased to life. So when the family cat dies, interfering neighbour Judd (John Lithgow) helps dad Louis (Clarke) to bring it back. Let’s call it Catliners.
Much like Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes this keeps the superficial elements of the original while making minor changes which serve to undermine the point of the story. The original tale may be daft, but it’s essentially a debate about how to deal with death: wife Rachael (Amy Seimetz) has been traumatised by her sister’s death at a young age, leading her to avoid the subject altogether, whereas Louis is a rational doctor with a more pragmatic approach. This film changes the ending in a way that means both characters’ arcs are removed and nobody learns anything.
One of the big strengths of Stephen King’s book is that it’s an original and unusual tale. Here it’s turned into a generic haunted house movie, complete with creaky floorboards, scary children’s drawings, Wicker Man style animal masks and dumb waiters. Rachael’s sick sister is turned into another boogie girl to jump out at us for no reason, in a plot thread that goes nowhere. The only upside is when she hisses her sister’s name it sounds like when Rachel in Friends thinks her Sphynx cat is talking to her.
The efforts to make it fright-a-minute rid it of any internal logic, and combined with the bland direction (by two people who don’t even have their own Wikipedia pages) it’s even more boring. It seems afraid that if we go five minutes without some gore or generic horror movie background noise the audience will leave.
There are some decent effects, including an animatronic cat which it’s a pleasure to see instead of CGI, and a good performance by Jeté Laurence as 9 year old Ellie. But the serious script fails to capitalise on the entertainment value of its inherent absurdity, and the film makers apparently even missed the irony of a crummy remake using the strap line ‘sometimes dead is better’. The result is boring and unnecessary, and fails to escape the impression it’s just raking over old graves. What a cat-astrophe.