The condemned: Pet Graveyard (2019)
The plot: Let’s get the most logical question out of the way first—no, this movie has literally nothing to do with a pet graveyard. Instead, it’s basically a ripoff of Flatliners, meaning it’s impossible to shake the sneaking suspicion that the creators of this film either missed their window of opportunity to get this made two years ago when that remake came out (and thus miss the chance to name this movie Smoothliners or some such), or maybe they just saw that film and thought, “Hey, I know how to do that but without any money!”
Pet Graveyard follows sister and brother Lily (Jessica O’Toole) and Jeff (David Cotter) in the wake of their mother’s death. She’s struggling in nursing school; he’s a wannabe YouTube star risking life and limb for clicks. But he asks for her help when he finds two people, Zara (Rita Siddiqui) and Francis (Hindolo Koroma), who want to perform a magic ritual that will allow them to communicate with deceased loved ones—but it involves dying for a window of three minutes. Recording it for posterity and with Lily at the ready to bring them back, the three of them suffocate and awake in a vast blackness, where they meet those they’ve sought out. Or at least it seems like they do: After they’re resuscitated, those spirits start manifesting in the real world, along with a robed figure that wants their souls. As people start dying, the siblings have to find a way to beat back the Grim Reaper and keep Jeff from being dragged back into the afterlife.
Over-the-top box copy: Oh, this movie isn’t available in hard copy. It’s a strictly VOD-only beast at the moment. The tagline on the front image (“The space between life and death... can kill”) doesn’t make much sense, but it’s at least germane to the plot, so good on them.
The descent: Welcome to the world of the mockbuster! This is the first full-on mockbuster title we’ve done in Home Video Hell, though a few, like The Dawnseeker, came close. For those unfamiliar with the term, “mockbuster” refers to the practice of producing cheap rip-offs of better-known movies, releasing them around the same time in hopes of capitalizing on the buzz of the big-budget Hollywood spectacle they’re aping, and thereby luring unsuspecting or inattentive viewers into forking over some cash for the intentionally similar product. Normally I bypass crap like this, but it seemed worth doing this one, not only to finally directly address the mockbuster phenomenon in this feature, but because this one is weirdly misjudged.
It’s not a ripoff of Pet Sematary, the film it’s obviously trying to fool people into associating with it. As mentioned above, it’s more or less a straight plundering of the plot of Flatliners, but with all that pesky and time-consuming “science” stuff replaced with a simple ritual. And yet that title—Pet Graveyard—keeps tricking your mind. I continually waited for the pets and/or the graveyards to come into play, despite the film quickly establishing other stakes. It’s like a splinter in my mind, driving me mad. “Why? Why Flatliners disguised by Pet Sematary? Tell me!” Even though I know the answer: Pet Sematary is a better-known title, bigger budget, and more marketable, i.e., easy to rip off. But they didn’t have a lazy knockoff of that story lying around, so they found a different no-budget feature someone had already made (this was reportedly originally called Grim Reaper, which would actually make sense) and used that instead. voilà.
The theoretically heavenly talent: Please. This is a mockbuster, and not even one of the fancy ones made by The Asylum, like Snakes On A Train or Transmorphers. You haven’t heard of any of these people, and neither have I.
The execution: Right from the opening title cards, you know you’re in for rough going. You know how comedies will sometimes drag out their opening text crawls unnecessarily long for an easy laugh? Pet Graveyard does the straight-faced version of that:
Okay, who says this? No one, right? Nobody says this. And not just because they would know that adding “never to return” after “leave it for good” is unnecessary. But okay, fair enough, the movie just wants to set a tone. Cool, now on to the film itself.
Hmm, this might actually be the opposite problem as the first title card. Pretty sure “some” don’t say death can’t be cheated. That’s much more of an “everyone” thing. Everybody agrees that we all die someday. “Some”? That’s just weird. But whatever, fine, let’s get on with the movie.
Are you just fucking with us now, Pet Graveyard? This is literally just a restatement of the previous line. Obviously you can’t come back; that’s what death is. It can’t be cheated, right? We just agreed on that.
Oh for fuck’s... Sure. Fine. He’ll claim your soul. Got it. How many minutes are left?
From there, things don’t get much better. The opening sequence establishes the budget-friendly nature of the scares through a quick and forgettable scene. Two anonymous people pull into a garage asking for help, with the woman continually telling the injured guy not to pass out. So of course he does, which is how we learn that he goes to what looks like an empty and badly lit black box theater in the afterlife. There, he gets murdered—but the woman in the real world gets murdered, too, by some robed spectral entity that’s invisible to the poor auto mechanic now stuck cleaning blood off the floor of her shop. So it doesn’t seem like it mattered if he fell asleep or not, given she gets gutted while fully awake. What a good way to establish stakes. Smash cut to the title!
The movie just fails to establish much in the way of a reason to care about its protagonists, largely because they’re ciphers saddled with one clunky character trait—they miss their dead mom—and nothing else. A pretty rotten script doesn’t help matters: “How was college?” Lily’s brother asks when she comes home from a normal day of nursing school, you know, like you do.
But as always, the dumbest and most entertaining nonsense is just a failure of logic in the story. After Zara and Francis—the two people who Jeff hooks up with to die and explore the afterlife for three minutes, which is a process the movie refers to as “brinking”—start to have strange visions in the real world of the dead loved ones they confronted in the black-box theater of the afterlife, Zara gets scared and returns to Lily and Jeff’s place, too freaked out to be at home. When she goes to take a shower, the Grim Reaper guy (a dude in a papier-mâché skull mask wearing a robe, which doesn’t exactly inspire fear) appears and sears the skin off her jaw, before strangling her with the shower hose. Cut to: “The police said it was suicide.” Ah yes, another classic suicide, where a person rips their own flesh off their face and burns their mouth shut.
Actually, the death itself is pretty funny, because once Zara starts screaming and gasping for help, Lily and Jeff understandably get worried and start pounding on the door, trying to open it. But once she dies, and the screams and gurgles abruptly cut off, the siblings just... give up on trying to get into the bathroom. “Well, she stopped screaming, so she’s probably fine now,” must be Jeff’s reasoning. His flunking out of school is starting to make more sense.
Actually, Jeff is consistently moronic throughout. He not only adopts the Kiefer Sutherland-in-Flatliners mentality of refusing to believe there’s anything creepy going on, but he then continues to deny it even after he himself has seen scary things, for reasons passing understanding. After dying and coming back, he assures Lily he saw their mother, even though mom was dripping blood from her mouth and saying menacing, eerie things. “There was something different about her. I’m sure it was mom,” he says, two sentences that do not exactly track. Plus, he just repeatedly shits on Zara and Francis pointing out the scary stuff they’re seeing. He refuses to believe anything has followed them back, insisting it’s impossible and ridiculous. Jeff, you just died and saw your dead mother and she dripped blood on you, so let’s pump the brakes on calling things impossible.
It’s important to stress just how shitty and ill-prepared these people’s plans are for dying. They have to say the magic words, then one by one they’re smothered to death with a plastic sheet, which seems like a bad way to go, and not very efficient or practical. But here’s the truly jaw-dropping part: Jeff insists Lily is needed to bring them back, because her medical knowledge will be invaluable. But when the time comes, and each of them are killed in turn—not one at a time, but all at once, because Lily should definitely have to be keeping track of bringing three people back in rapid succession, so sensible—does Lily put any of that medical training to use? She does not. Hold on tight, because here’s the brilliant strategy they employ to resuscitate dead people:
Thank god they had a trained nurse there to do nothing but squeeze an oxygen tube.
Similarly, the movie can’t even bother to get its timing right. Once a person dies, Lily sets a timer for three minutes, to make sure she can bring them back at the appropriate moment. First they kill Zara, and set the timer. Next, Francis is killed. It’s a long, arduous process, and yet, when Lily goes to set the timer for him, Zara’s hasn’t moved at all. Ditto for Francis’ after Lily is tasked with killing Jeff herself and then rushing over to set the timer—neither of the other two’s seem to be moving at all. Here’s where the timers are at after three people have delivered speeches about loved ones and then been slowly, agonizingly murdered:
Now, we get a few scenes of each person talking to their loved one in the afterlife, while Lily nervously twitches and waits in the real world to bring them back. Let’s take a look at how much time has elapsed according to the timers, shall we?
None. None time has elapsed. I’m not sure the makers of Pet Graveyard know how timers work—or even time itself, for that matter. Hey, let’s check back in on those timers after roughly 13 minutes of screen time has passed, shall we?
Best of all, when the first timer does finally go off and she begins resuscitation, it’s right after we see another shot of them with time remaining, just as in the previous shots. Perhaps Lily realized they were broken somewhere around minute 11?
Ultimately, the only leg Pet Graveyard has to stand on when it comes to justifying that title is the cat. Yes, the Grim Reaper has a little hairless feline companion who likes to haunt the briefly dead people he’s hunting—sort of a “head’s up, you’ll be dead again soon” nod. The cat’s eyes glow red, which is how you know it’s supernatural and evil, and not just a normal cat freaking you out with its lack of hair. Still, pretty sure the mere presence of an evil cat doesn’t quite get you to being able to justify the name Pet Graveyard. On the plus side, in this movie’s version of the afterlife, when Death comes to claim you in the real world, he grabs a wrench and bashes your head in to get the job done, which I don’t quite remember being explained in Dante’s Inferno.
Likelihood it will rise from obscurity: Nil. This thing was put out into the world by the company distributing it in hopes of making a quick buck, after which it will quietly fade from view. I hope the people who made it had fun and learned a lot about filmmaking, because there’s not much other reason for it to exist in readily accessible form.
Damnable commentary track or special features? Not a one. The digital ether giveth, and the digital ether taketh away without so much as a blooper reel.