Culture

Amy Seimetz and Jason Clarke on Pet Sematary: "This Is Some Crazy Sh*t"

Amy Seimetz (left), Jeté Laurence, Jason Clarke, and Hugo Lavoie in Pet Sematary
Amy Seimetz (left), Jeté Laurence, Jason Clarke, and Hugo Lavoie in Pet Sematary Paramount Pictures
Australian actor Jason Clarke can’t get over how art has greatly influenced life in Miami. “It’s exactly like Michael Mann’s Miami Vice. I’ve seen so many [Ferrari] Testarossas so far I’m out of my mind,” he declares.

Tampa-born actress Amy Seimetz, a filmmaker known to Miami audiences for her work with Borscht Film Festival, humors her Pet Sematary costar and suggests a spa day and Cuban sandwiches.

While they joke about this stop on their tour promoting the horror movie, set in Maine and based on the 1983 book by Stephen King, the conversation soon turns to nightmares. The novel is about a family beset by tragedy when a speeding truck kills one of their children. Realizing there is a magical, ancient burial ground in the forest behind their house that brings back the dead, the father, Louis, takes the kid’s corpse there. The child comes back to life, but is, shall we say, different. The book was so dark King himself has admitted he had second thoughts about giving it to his publisher.

Clarke, who plays Louis in the book's second film adaptation, has read the novel eight times over the years. Seimetz, who plays Louis' wife, Rachel, remembers first reading the book when she was 8 years old. The scariest part for her at the time, she recalls, was getting inside the heads of the adult characters. “It was just reading very adult conversations about how a father doesn’t always have the nicest thoughts about his daughter or kids, you know? It’s very intimate and feels like way too much for a kid at 8 years old to be reading,” she says.


“The reason that Stephen King found this book to be the most disturbing is that it comes from an honest and earnest place, and I think that’s why it still resonates today,” she continues. “I think right now [earnestness] is such a rarity, but when you hit it right, it resounds with so many people.”

“It’s a beautiful novel about understanding the human spirit and the human mind,” Clarke adds. “It’s a great examination of a man. It’s like Colonel Kurtz going up the river,” he says, referencing the movie Apocalypse Now and the book on which it's based. “Heart of Darkness. It really does go into it. It’s really extraordinary.”

Such a heavy discussion about a horror movie might seem antithetical, but genre movies often allow filmmakers and their audiences to explore human nature like no other style of film. “It requires a lot to make it work,” Clarke says of acting in such a movie, “but when you get it right, the whole room lights up. I mean, the reaction of people is straight-up visceral.”

One of those visceral reactions the actors like to hear is uncomfortable laughter rather than outright screams. To Seimetz, those laughs mean viewers can relate to what they see onscreen. "The more familiar or real you can make that reaction... people laugh at the familiarity of it,” she says. “It’s the dread. It’s part of that language you have with the audience, which is, I know that feeling.”

Clarke has a moment in Pet Sematary that seems simple on the surface. It’s a surreal attempt at tenderness when Louis lies in bed next to his resurrected daughter Ellie (played by Jeté Laurence). On his face is an expression of conflicted emotions and realization. At a preview screening for the film at Sunset Place in South Miami, the audience certainly recognized that look and laughed.

“At the heart of [King’s] story is an absurd jump,” Clarke says. “There’s incredible kitchen-sink drama and reality, and then there’s this absurd supernatural jump where you bury somebody and they come back and they’re different. The great challenge for all of us involved was to find the reality, base it in the reality, and then make real its crazy jump... When the audience laughs, for me, it just means, This is just fucked up, for want of a better word. This is some crazy shit going on.”

“That’s sort of the fun of it,” Seimetz adds about performing such a scene. “[It's] the ‘what if’ and putting your brain in that place and the challenge of it.”

Pet Sematary opens nationwide Thursday, April 4.
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Hans Morgenstern has contributed to Miami New Times for too many decades, but he's grown to love Miami's arts and culture scene because of it. He is the chair of the Florida Film Critics Circle, and most of his film criticism can be found on Independent Ethos (indieethos.com) if not in New Times.