Spoilers for 2019's Pet Sematary ahead.
Stephen King's 1983 horror novel Pet Sematary may feature zombies rising from the "sour" ground, but what the story is really about is grief. If you could bring back your lost loved one, would you risk the complications? For many people, the answer is yes.
The Kübler-Ross model calls this particular stage of grief "bargaining" — but, in Pet Sematary, it actually works. A grieving father does bring his child back from the dead, knowing full well that the kid may come back "different." Or, evil.
Pet Sematary received its second film adaptation this year, with Jason Clarke playing a father who doesn't believe in the afterlife until he starts messing around with bringing back the dead. Amy Seimetz portrays his wife, Rachel, who has spent far too much time around death since caring for her ill sister. Now, Rachel fears death and what comes next, so much so that she wants to protect her eight-year-old daughter Ellie (Jeté Laurence) from learning the truth about her deceased cat, Church. Tragically, however, it's Ellie who gets the most intimate experience with death.
Seimetz, who is also a prolific writer, director, and producer, spoke to Refinery29 about her role in Pet Sematary, what she found so scary about this version of the tale, and why she's always attracted to the darkness.
Refinery29: Your character in the film battles grief and loss. What was it like to take on those heavy emotions as an actor?
Amy Seimetz: "I've already gone through those emotions as a human being. I've dealt with death directly, in taking care of my dad and losing him. Whether people have gone through the trauma of losing someone super close to them or being responsible for their care, it's inevitable. We're all going to die. That leap of portraying grief and loss was not hard for me. We start there, and then go into insane territory — that was a little bit of a leap, to go further with it — but it was cathartic to explore those ideas of grief, to think 'Well, what if that person does come back, but different?'"
In Lambert's original film and in King's novel, Gage dies instead of Ellie — so an older child dies. What difference does this change make?
"In this movie, you have an arc with Ellie where you're starting to have conversations about death, and how to approach and explain it. Do you explain that you live on in heaven, or do you say we have no idea what happens afterward? How do you explain that you don't actually know? Having that not only gives Ellie a bigger arc, in that she's the one asking those questions and then ultimately dies but gives her parents a bigger arc in that they are trying to protect Ellie from death and the idea of it, only for her to die."
Was there any moment in the movie that scared you, during filming?
"Exploring any of these [topics] is not easy. You don't want to imagine these things, but death is inevitable and around the corner. You have to drag that stuff up. One thing that is disturbing is that Jeté has this ability to go from sweet little girl to [having this dark side.] To see someone so young be able to do that, I was like, whoa — 'You have some secrets you're not telling me!'"
You're a writer and director as well. Are you attracted to projects with a dark side?
"I am, [and] in comedy as well. I'm always attracted to something with a little drop of poison in it. I can enjoy movies that aren't necessarily my taste, but in terms of what my toolkit is, I'm attracted to something a little darker. I can be idealistic because obviously making films takes a little bit of that, but I'm also very practical and a little cynical."
You produced, wrote, and directed Starz series The Girlfriend Experience. What was it like being one of the driving forces behind a women-led story?
"It's important for me to write stories about women that have an existential crisis, who are not always going to do the right thing and to explore that women have that choice. We love Walter White, we love Tony Soprano — why can't we write about women going through these crises? I also approach all of my female characters like I hope anyone approaches any human being. They have an inner narrative in which what they say doesn't always express how they are feeling. There's so much complexity to the women that I write or any character that I'm exploring because I want to respect that every person has vulnerability and isn't just a shell of a person."
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.