The Big Picture

  • While at Fantastic Fest 2023, director Lindsey Anderson Beer discussed expanding the story of Timmy Baterman and the history of Ludlow, Maine in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines.
  • The Paramount+ release stars Jackson White as a young Jud Crandall, the character played by John Lithgow in the 2019 film.
  • During the interview, Beer broke down her approach to adapting IP and also teased upcoming projects including her new Sleepy Hollow movie.

We’ve been getting a steady stream of Stephen King adaptations on screen for decades now, and many of them are quite good, but the 2023 releases are highlighting one particular approach to bringing a King classic to life on screen that’s brimming with potential and could be worth mining further — identifying lightly explored corners of King’s worlds and fleshing them out.

Early this year we got Rob Savage’s The Boogeyman, which takes a King-penned short story, honors its source material, but then builds a whole world around that one conversation between Lester Billings and Dr. Harper. Somewhat similarly, Lindsey Anderson Beer’s new Pet Sematary movie, Pet Sematary: Bloodlines, expands on a single chapter from the beloved novel, the one that recalls what happened to Jud Crandall’s childhood friend, Timmy Baterman.

Bloodlines takes us back to 1969 when a young Jud Crandall (Jackson White) was busy dreaming of leaving Ludlow, Maine with his girlfriend Norma (Natalie Alyn Lind). However, just before they can hit the road, Jud and Norma come face to face with Ludlow’s sinister secrets — secrets that have forever changed Jud’s dear friend, Timmy Baterman (Jack Mulhern).

While in Austin celebrating Pet Sematary: Bloodlines’ world premiere screening at Fantastic Fest 2023, Beer visited the Collider interview studio to break down her approach to adapting IP. Check out what she told me about further exploring the Timmy Baterman story and Ludlow’s history in the video interview at the top of this article or in transcript form below. Beer was also generous enough to offer updates on four highly anticipated upcoming projects she’s working on — a new Sleepy Hollow movie, the live-action Bambi, Luca Guadagnino’s The Lord of the Flies, and Star Trek 4.

Pet Sematary: Bloodlines is available to stream on Paramount+ beginning Friday, October 6th.

An undead dog in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines
Image via Paramount+

PERRI NEMIROFF: I was reading that you studied neuroscience and intersection of technology and society at Stanford. What inspired you to study that, and then what inspired the shift to filmmaking?

LINDSEY ANDERSON BEER: I always wanted to be a filmmaker. I was one of those annoying kids who was always just turning in a movie instead of an essay or something for school projects. [Laughs]

I respect that.

BEER: But I always loved horror and science fiction, and I just felt like studying something related to science could just be such an interesting backdrop and stuff to mine for my career later.

When you decide to pursue filmmaking full-force, what would you say was the key to bridging the gap between identifying the dream and making it happen? I feel like I heard your name for the first time on one thing and then, all of a sudden, I heard it on a whole bunch of very exciting projects!

BEER: I work 18 to 20 hours a day. [Laughs] If I decide to do something, I really, really do it, and I moved here, and I just never stopped working and just tried to really give it my all. I think that’s all you can do if you love something. You just throw yourself at it and have no regrets.

So you’ve been writing and producing, but this marks your feature directorial debut. Selecting the right material is of the utmost importance, so why Pet Sematary: Bloodlines? What did you think it was about that material that aligned with the skills you already had and would maybe help you take those skills to the next level?

BEER: Yeah, it’s a great question. There was so much about it. I mean, first of all, Pet Sematary was my favorite King book when I was a kid. So that was a little bit of a dream project. But specifically, as a filmmaker, I felt like, even more so than all of King’s work, which is often a mish-mash of genres, right? There’s a much more human element to it than a lot of horror writers. But Pet Sematary particularly is kind of a backdoor horror movie. It’s a family drama that becomes incredibly terrifying, and I felt like that universe where you could make a drama that just happens to be really fucking terrifying, and in doing so also kind of employ all of the filmmaker toolkits in a way that you don’t necessarily have to in other genres.

And specifically for this project, Pet Sematary is so much about confronting death and I thought about things like the silence of death and the sound design that I could use. My mind just kind of started turning immediately about how I could use all the different aspects I love of filmmaking. And also I love ‘60s music, and that kind of hooked me, too. There were just so many elements that I felt like I could really dig into the different areas of filmmaking that I love for this particular movie.

To build on that a little, is there anything about your experience making Pet Sematary that signaled to you that in order to hone those skills even further, Sleepy Hollow would be the next best film to make?

BEER: Sleepy Hollow, you know, there are a lot of skill sets that are similar in terms of it’s a beloved IP. It’s also the same kind of thing where when I was doing Bloodlines, I kept asking myself when I was doing the rewrites, “What would I want to know as a Pet Sematary fan? What are the questions left unanswered from the book? What are the parts of the book that haven’t been explored in movies?”

For instance, the end of the book says that Jud is the guardian of the woods, and the book says that Jud’s experience with Timmy Baterman is the reason that the evil’s even targeting him as an old man, that we know. So there are so many things like that that aren’t explored in films, and that a lot of the fans don’t know because they haven’t read the book, or haven’t read the book for so much time. Sleepy Hollow, same thing. The legends of Sleepy Hollow are so rich, and as I started doing research about the Hudson Valley and true ghost stories, I got addicted to that, too.

Isabella Star LaBlanc and Forrest Goodluck as Donna and Manny in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines
Image via Paramount+

You brought up the rewrites you did on the script. Can you tell me a little bit about what you really embraced in Jeff [Buhler]’s version of the screenplay and then what you thought you could bring out of his vision to enhance it but also make it somewhat your own?

BEER: Directing is such a personal endeavor, so of course, even if a script is amazing, when you come on as a writer-director, you kind of have to make it your own. So the stuff that I really responded to in Jeff’s material was just the bones of the story in terms of a Timmy Baterman story being the lens through which you explore an origin story, and centering that around Jud, and when I came on, he had written such a fun slasher movie, but I wanted to return it more to the tone of the book in terms of the mix of genres – the drama, the comedy. My goal was to make it really brutal and raw and scary as shit, but also hopefully have a lot of human moments. So just tonally, that was a focus of the rewrites. There are a lot of new characters that I brought in, particularly the characters of Donna and Manny are so important to me. There was a version of Manny in Jeff’s script, but he was a little bit more of the kind of comedic sidekick.

Was there no Donna in that version?

BEER: There was no Donna.

I can’t imagine the character of Manny without that connection to Donna now.

BEER: Yeah, there was a character named Donna, but who wasn’t Donna. She was a party girl but not Manny’s sister, not Native American. But one of the things I like to do when I’m rewriting somebody is change as little as possible so I kept the name the same, but repurposed the character.

I thought that that relationship between the two of them is so central to my version of the movie that I wanted to make. And also just giving Native Americans more of a point of view in the movie, just given the history of “mystical Indigenous” in the trope of the cursed land that was associated with the property before. I felt like I wanted to refresh that mythology, show that what we know about Pet Sematary and the curse is actually not what it is and that there’s a lot more to discover, and the story we know is either an explicit cover-up or it’s just superstitions, or whatever it is. And to be able to do that correctly I felt like we needed, one, I thought Manny needed to be an equal hero with Jud, and, two, I thought we needed a female Native American perspective as well as a male.

We have many Stephen King adaptations out there. Many of them are phenomenal. In some cases, they miss the mark a bit. Having done this movie, what is one “do” for adapting a Stephen King novel, and what is one “do not” that you would recommend to another filmmaker about to adapt some of his work?

BEER: I adapt a lot of IP because that’s the business we are in these days, and I always approach it the same way, which is that you have to honor the spirit of what the original thing was. And to me, the spirit is the theme or the moral question. So, you know, for Pet Sematary, even though this is a very different kind of film than some of the other Pet Sematarys and isn’t just a small family drama, but examines a whole town, that central question of what would you do for somebody you love is central to the core of the story and where the horror comes from, and where the comedy comes from, and where the drama comes from.

And so I would say do lean into what made that property, that property. What is that essential question or essence to that thing? I would say that don’t – “don’t” is an interesting question. I would say don’t just do something to remake it. It has to stand on its own. It has to have a reason for being.

I can definitely get behind that.

Jackson White as a young Jud Crandall in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines
Image via Paramount+

One of the things that stuck out to me about your film is I just love the idea of finding a little corner that is hinted at but not fully explored, especially with Stephen King’s work which is always so incredibly rich, full, and detailed. I feel like there’s often some hidden corner that we get a line or a single chapter about that is well worth its own full story.

BEER: Oh, for sure. And I mean, the Timmy Baterman story could be its own full story even if it wasn’t an origin story that told more about the founding of Ludlow. And that, to me, I was trying to bridge the intimacy of the Timmy story with the scope of an origin story for Ludlow and not just Jud.

I have one more “do/do not” question for you because I love hearing about working with animals. What is one “do” and one “do not” for working with a dog actor?

BEER: Do not block off long periods to work with them because they tire very easily, unfortunately, and you got to be kind to your animals. Do go into it with an open mind. I was told how awful it is to work with animals, and I had a delightful experience with all of my animals.

It was definitely a top film school rule; do not work with babies and do not work with animals. But I love animals, and I know there were three very good dogs here – phenomenal work from all of them!

To highlight more of your cast, of all the roles in this ensemble, which was the easiest to cast where it was like the right person magically appeared, but then on the other hand, which character was the most difficult to find the perfect fit for?

BEER: Manny was the easiest to cast.

Forrest is the best.

BEER: I just knew I wanted Forrest [Goodluck] and I offered it to him so that was very easy to cast. All the other younger roles I watched a shit ton of tapes, but the older roles, for [David] Duchovny, [Pam] Grier, Henry Thomas, Samantha Mathis, those were actually very easy, and they all came to mind first, and I was lucky enough to get my first choices.

David Duchovny as Bill looking at an undead Timmy (Jack Mulhern) in the mirror in Pet Sematary: Bloodlines
Image via Paramount+

Another thing I love talking about is bloody movie magic. It is an artistry that I think needs even more credit than it gets.

BEER: Oh yeah, definitely.

Of everything you filmed for this movie in that department, is there anything in particular that made you think, “I cannot believe that is what it takes to make it look like that on screen in the finished product?”

BEER: Oh, that’s such a good question. There’s nothing that surprised me really, but I completely agree with you. There’s so much craft and artistry on so many different levels that goes into this between the people who make the prosthetics, the angles you choose to film things from. I think even more than any other genre it’s so key what angles you’re showing, when and why, because something becomes scary or not scary depending on which way you’re showing it. The foot scene was so fun to film.

Good example. It’s a nice tease!

BEER: Yeah, it was a really good one. I mostly try to do practical effects, but that was one where it was practical, enhanced by CG.

Both practical and digital are beautiful arts and when they’re used well together, that could be the pitch-perfect option!

I’m gonna get greedy right now. Now that you’ve done one Stephen King adaptation, if you had the opportunity to adapt another one of his books, which one would you pick and why?

BEER: That would be like choosing favorite children. I’m sure anybody who actually has a child, which is not me, is like, “No, that is not at all like choosing a favorite child.” But there are so many I love. I don’t know that there’s any that stands out right now that I’m like, “I don’t feel like it’s been done well,” or I feel like there’s this whole missing chapter the way that I felt about Pet Sematary where I felt there was truly this chapter that hadn’t been told that I was excited to contribute.

I’m just trying to speak this into existence because I know it existed and fell apart; I want a Long Walk movie so badly!

BEER: Okay, let’s put that into the universe!

The graveyard in Pet Sematary: Bloodlinese
Image via Paramount+

Now I’m gonna do the obnoxious thing and ask you about a couple of upcoming titles.

You already brought up that you adapt a lot of IP. I am very curious to hear about your approach to doing that with Bambi. With the live-action Disney adaptations, the question often is, “Why? Why do we need another one?” What is something about the classic version of Bambi that you think is important to hold tight to, but then also, how are you gonna answer the question of why?

BEER: Well, what’s interesting about Bambi to me is it absolutely is a classic and it’s a beautiful love poem, such artistry to it. I do think there’s an entire generation of children who have never seen the original and that’s very different from, say, Little Mermaid or Aladdin or the ‘90s heyday films that they’ve definitely already seen. I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve seen who’ve never seen Bambi, which is such a shame. And the thing is, it’s such a gorgeous film. It’s a little bit different tempo than I think modern audiences are used to.

And I also think there’s a treatment of the – not to spoil the plot, but there’s a treatment of the mom dying that I think some kids, some parents these days are more sensitive about than they were in the past, and I think that’s one of the reasons that they haven’t shown it to their children. But I do think that there is a way to update Bambi and our take on it did give a little bit more of a scope to it. And I just think that to be able to bring it to life for kids these days in a way that maybe they relate to a little bit more would be of service to the original.

Now Lord of the Flies. I’m obsessed with Luca [Guadagnino]’s work. You’re producing that movie. What can you tease about what makes this movie his version of that story compared to any other interpretation we’ve seen before?

BEER: It leans so much into psychological horror and it’s so rich in character drama, as you would expect from somebody like him. But it’s scary. It gives you so much unease reading it. And I think it taps into a more current version of it than we’ve seen before. I think some people have tried to tackle that property in a way that doesn’t really resonate to now, and I think that the whole approach has been very fresh and refreshing.

Last one! Your Star Trek movie. Is it still going forward? I feel like we haven’t heard anything about it in about a year.

BEER: It is. It’s still on the tracks.

Right answer!

BEER: [Laughs] I love that project, and it was another one that I had to hop off of to direct this movie, and that was a hard thing to do. But I love everybody involved with that project.

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