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Pet Sematary Interview: Directors Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer

In 2014, directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer debuted their film, Starry Eyes at SXSW. It was the strength of that film (and exploration of a lead characters descent into darkness) that helped get them the gig of adapting a Stephen King classic, Pet Sematary.

Now, back at SXSW, Pet Sematary debuted as the closing night film. Since it was co-director's Kevin Kolsch birthday, the whole crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to him to help celebrate. We interviewed the filmmakers the following day.

First off Kevin happy birthday! That was very...

Kevin Kolsch: Oh yeah!

It’s a great party to have SXSW do this for you.

Kevin Kolsch: It is! It is!

Dennis Widmyer: He didn’t know we were gonna do that!

Kevin Solsch: Oh we threw this whole party just for my birthday.

Yeah a whole nine day event! That’s amazing!

Dennis Widmyer: It was an afterthought!

Also congrats on finishing the sound designs what, two days ago?

Dennis Widmyer:  Yeah, that was actually a pretty common occurrence, that you talk to filmmakers. Your always going last minute. Our previous film, Starry Eyes, you were running to FedEx before midnight to get the DCP set before deadline within minutes. Just making movies man. You go till you can’t go anymore.

Jason Clarke and Ellie in Pet Sematary

Sound design was great by the way, and I definitely freaked out more than once.

Dennis Widmyer: So it was worth the time?

Definitely worth the time! Absolutely. Ok, this film, it’s Pet Sematary, it’s considered to be one of the THE Stephen King books and it’s been done obviously before, what did you guys feel was your approach that made it feel like it was YOUR take that you felt confident in doing?

Dennis Widmyer: I mean really it was, we’re huge fans of this book. We read this book growing up you know, so really it was kinda scary. A scary prospect taking on the book that even scarred Stephen King. But at the end of the day it’s a book about grief. It’s a book about the acceptance of death. And being able to talk about death. Everybody in one way shape or form experiences death in their lives or is going to. It’s a very taboo issue. So that’s how we approached it. We approached it as really making a drama. About people dealing with this topic, but at the same time you’re telling it through the lense of horror and genre.

So you get to do all those fun things that genre films get to do but at the end of the day you have to remember really what the core essence of what this story is. That was a challenge but it was also the thing that excited us the most was getting to make a psychological, deep, emotional, horror movie. That’s the kind of stuff we live for.

Now I read about the the reasons why the changed from Gage to Elle but I guess...what I’m  curious about there any draft where you guys DID stick to the original concept where it was gonna be Gage passing away or did it always…?

Kevin Solsch: Since we’ve been on the project it’s always been Ellie. Paramount has had this property for a long time, I can’t speak to if there were other versions but it’s always been that way.

Dennis Widmyer:  I think it’s been that way for a while, and we support the change. It’s been done great...Gage is super scary in the first one (1989 version). You look at the novel, Ellie is the one that is asking the questions about death and so it made sense to us. Say, if we’re gonna do something different let's explore that a little more and let's come back to that in the second half of the movie and corrupt it. Have her ask those same questions nows and go full circle with it.

Pet Sematary 2019

And this something I really loved about how you went and did the death. Because when the scene happens where Gage is by the highway, I’m sitting there going...Oh I know what you guys are doing. Because it looks very much how, if you’re a fan of the book or the (1989) movie, that looks exactly like the moment where it should have happened. Instead it comes off as an alternate reality.

Dennis Widmyer: I know.

Was that kind of the intent?

Kevin Solsch: Yeah, that was the intent, I mean, I know now with the posters and everything it’s kind of out that it’s Elle, but I mean, there’s a lot of things in there. Even when they’re having their talk with Elle about what happens after we die, what happens when her pet dies. They tell her, oh don’t worry we’ll be around for a long time...me, you and mommy. And then she said, AND GAGE?  And that’s suppose to be like a little

Dennis Widmyer: Wink Wink.

Kevin Solsch:...for the audience. And then you see him running and you think this is what’s gonna happen. It was supposed to be like, this is the moment, we all know the moment, it’s Gage and like you know…

Dennis Widmyer: But I think the moment was still so convincing that I think people, I can’t speak for yourself, but I think people last night watching the movie, even seeing the trailer and seeing the poster, up until the last minute were going, wait a second did I get this wrong? Are they gonna kill Gage? What’s gonna happen? Up until the last minute it’s a magic trick, and last minute you flip a card. I still think that people were hopefully shocked by that. And I think there’s gonna be a whole future of people that are gonna discover this film in other ways, having not seen a trailer or seen the poster, and catching it on tv or VOD and up until the last minute are gonna think it’s Gage. So I think there’s still a lot of power in that scene.

More: Lorenzo di Bonaventura Interview for Pet Sematary

Key Release Dates
  • Pet Sematary (2019) release date: Apr 05, 2019
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