Mockbusters, ripoffs, or tie-ins—does not matter what you call them—were around long before The Asylum. Roger Corman’s Carnosaur versus Jurassic Park, anyone? So why is it then that when The Asylum is poised to release a new tie-in title, denizens of the web creep out of the ether to mock or lambast the company? Yet, when other independent film distributors use a similar tactic, there is considerably less fervor over them. Say what you will about The Asylum their mockbuster titles at least are about what they advertise. Transmorphers does contain alien robots that change shape, Snakes On A Train is about a locomotive filled with deadly, slithering reptiles, and so on. Uncork’d Entertainment’s Pet Graveyard is one of the most deplorable examples of this titling technique I have ever encountered.
The film concerns siblings Jeff (David Cotter) and Lily (Jessica O’Toole), whose mother recently passed away. Lily’s grades for her university nursing program have fallen, as her life is spinning out of control. In order to cope, Jeff took a gap year and is now filming himself doing daredevil stunts. Along with his friends, Zara (Rita Siddiqui) and Francis (Hindolo Koroma), Jeff’s latest feat is to ‘brink.’ That is, to die, experience the afterlife, then come back to life.
See Jeff wants to say a final goodbye to his mother. Francis is dealing with the guilt of being the driver when he was involved in a car crash that killed his significant other, Amy (Georgina Jane). Isaac (T’Jean Uter-Dinh) was Zara’s brother whom she misses dearly. So, the three of them go under for five minutes, but as the saying goes, one can’t cheat death.
“That is, to die, experience the afterlife, then come back to life…but as the saying goes, one can’t cheat death.”
Upon returning to life, all three friends are haunted by eerie visions of their dearly departed loved ones. They are also being stalked by a hairless cat, who is the harbinger of the Grim Reaper (Clive Cohen). Can the friends find a way to stop death? Or are they doomed to the same fate as those they visited in purgatory?
After reading the plot synopsis, you might be asking how exactly does a pet graveyard fit into the story? Exactly. Not for nothing, but the movie’s plot is much more a riff off of Flatliners, and it is even, arguably, a more fleshed out version than the tepid remake a few years ago. There is a graveyard, but nothing about it marks it as specifically for pets, and it is never explained that it is so. It is one of the places the cat is first seen but the cat is the precursor to the slasher villain antics of the Grim Reaper, so it is not contained to that single location.
Legitimately awful title aside, how is the movie? It is a mixed bag. The first half of the Suzy Spade penned film is excellent. The characters are established well, especially Lily and Jeff’s ever-growing distance from each other. The sequence that introduces Lily sees a professor talking to her about her grades. He feels for Lily and suggests taking a gap year to recharge after the tragedy. She gives an impassioned speech about how the university is the only thing giving her life structure at the moment, and that is what she needs. It comes across as believable and gets the audience sympathetic to Lily’s plight early on.
“The sound design is magnificent, often working in the voices of the dead people into the regular ambient noise to chilling effecting.”
However, once the three who died and came back start having visions of dead people and hearing voices from beyond the grave, Pet Graveyard turns into a joke. These characters go from decently smart to the stupidest people alive in the course of one scene and the movie never recovers. Why in the world wouldn’t any of the three confess that they too are seeing or hearing things after one of them claims they are? It does not make sense, and their incompetence directly leads to more deaths.
Rebecca Matthews directed the horror tale, and it is okay. The sound design is magnificent, often working in the voices of the dead people into the regular ambient noise to chilling effecting. However, the cinematography is drab, offering a limited depth of field, making every scene feel small and awkward. This means that the moments intended to have a significant emotional impact, or really frighten the viewer, come across as tepid and dull.
While no one in the cast embarrasses themselves, I doubt this is going to be anyone’s best or most fondly looked up performance. Jessica O’Toole does the best job overall but seems to rush her lines every once in a while. As the silent Grim Reaper, Clive Cohen is big, imposing, and would make for a great slasher in a better movie.
Pet Graveyard, genuinely misleading title aside, is a movie that exists. During the course of its 95-minute runtime, you won’t be bored, but you’ll never become very invested in what is happening. That is because a strong set up is squandered on characters inexplicably becoming morons and bland, forgettable scares.
Pet Graveyard (2019) Directed by Rebecca Matthews. Written by Suzy Spade. Starring Jessica O’Toole, David Cotter, Rita Siddiqui, Hindolo Koroma, Georgina Jane, T’Jean Uter-Dinh, Clive Cohen.
4 out of 10 Cemeteries