Yes, there is a cat in PET GRAVEYARD but it is neither a pet nor a particularly logical part of the narrative. It is, however, arguably the ugliest feline I can ever remember seeing on screen.
The premise here is that Lily Newman (Jessica O’Toole) and her thrill-seeking brother Jeff (David Cotter) are distraught at the loss of their mother, Sara (Kate Lush) in a car crash some time before we catch up with the story. To compound matters, they both (Lily in particular) feel some responsibility for her death, having allowed her to drive off in a drunken state instead of demanding she surrender her car keys. Lily, it seems, is slowly making an effort at getting her life back together with plans to get her nursing studies back on track, but Jeff is reckless and out of control. So much so, that when he meets equally grief-stricken Zara (Rita Siddiqui) - who is mourning the loss of her little brother - and Francis - who was driving the car that crashed and killed his girlfriend – he is eager to believe their story about the ritual of brinking; a method by which the living can be suffocated to death in order to spend a brief time with the departed before being resuscitated several minutes later. But all is not what they expect when they reach the ‘other side’ and despite thinking they’ve ‘brinked’ or cheated death, the Grim Reaper (Clive Cohen in a not-very-convincing costume and mask) comes after them in the world of the living to claim what is rightfully his. It seems they were mistaken about the power of the ritual and that the Grim Reaper does not look kindly on those who think that the afterlife is somewhere they can come and go as they please.
This isn’t a bad idea for a film and, although it has its moments, it suffers from some poor structural decisions in Suzy Spade’s screenplay. The first is that the story begins with a nine-and-a-half-minute prologue that follows the tragic and gruesome end of a couple of characters who tried this brinking thing three years earlier. For me, this was the most compelling and unsettling sequence of the whole movie with its mysterious goings on and terrified characters who were clearly trying to escape from a seriously malevolent force. The problem with this, though, is that it telegraphs the story beats that the rest of the film will focus on, using up all the surprises at the front end and leaving not much for us to wonder about or be scared by for the other ninety minutes. The second problem with the screenplay is that it follows what happens to the three ‘brinkers’ (Jeff, Zara and Francis) one after the other. The trouble here is that their stories are all a bit similar and unfold in much the same way and at pretty much the same pace which doesn’t help the problem created by the prologue. What that leaves us with is a sense that we’re always ahead of the story which, for a horror movie, is not a good thing.
Jessica O’Toole makes a good fist of Lily, the reluctant participant, and she manages to find what she needs to rise to the occasion by film’s end, but without the kinds of scares and thrills we need along the way, the ending falls a bit flat. This is the first feature outing for director Rebecca Matthews and in the prologue, at least, she gives us a hint of what the future might hold for her filmmaking.
The original title for this film was Reaper which, in the absence of any actual pets or pet graveyards, might have been a better way to go. If Uncork’d Entertainment had hoped the name change might give them the kind of boost that films from The Asylum seem to get from these knock-off titles, then I’m afraid they were sadly mistaken. Type "Pet Graveyard" into Google and, unfortunately for Uncork’ed, the first dozen hits you’ll get will all be for Pet Semetary.
PET GRAVEYARD is available on DVD/digital through Uncork'd Entertainment on April 2nd.