An ancient burial ground offers irresistible temptation to tamper with life and death in Pet Sematary, a monkey's-paw tale shedding all subtext to focus on a fear none of us can escape: Permanent loss. Stephen King's terrifying tale gets its second big screen adaptation, arriving in theaters April 5, with a major plot change shifting the focus from the imperiled family's younger son Gabe to older sister Ellie. The young actor who plays Ellie in Pet Sematary, Jeté Laurence, pulls off a complex performance that would stymie most experienced actors more experience than her.
Laurence already has a long performing resume to her name. She's appeared on TV shows The Americans and Jessica Jones as well as other feature films like the recent thriller The Snowman. In Pet Sematary, she plays the oldest kid in the Creed family, who have just relocated from Chicago to small-town Maine, ominously near a rural highway. The town has a quaint, creepy tradition of a children's pet cemetery, but when Ellie's beloved cat gets hit by a truck, their well-meaning older neighbor Jud reveals that it hides an older, darker place for dead things — one that can bring things back. And when Ellie herself is struck by a speeding semi, the temptation her dad faces to turn around the loss is too great.
Talking to Film Is Now, Laurence said, "It was really cool to be a part of a movie that really made you think about consequences and like, if you were to bring someone back, would you?" Downplaying that it was her performance that makes the movie so eerie and enduring, she continued, "It was really cool to see how Ellie changes from a sweet, caring little girl who loves her cat and then, to like angry, unforgiving, almost evil kind of spirit of a little girl."
“We were just so lucky," the film's co-director Kevin Kolsch told Slash Film. "The one [difficult] thing was finding [Ellie]. And Jeté... I don’t know how she does it — it’s not us directing her. It’s her. She plays this little girl role, because she is just a little girl. And then she asks for a minute, goes off in a corner, and she comes back, and she’s this evil Ellie. I don’t know what she’s channeling over there.”
Though she's preternaturally thoughtful and upbeat in interviews, in clips from the movie, the young actor's transformation to an ancient evil is radical. And it seems that talent runs in the family. Laurence's sister is Oona Laurence, who performed as the lead in the Broadway musical Matilda before appearing in a number of films as well, including Southpaw and Bad Moms.
The Pet Sematary actor admitted to JoBlo that the closest she came to Stephen King's work before this was watching the recent reboot of It. "I hadn't seen any of his other movies, but I hope I can see them. I didn't see Pet Sematary because when I'm acting, I guess my imagination kind of takes over, and if I saw the original, I might not have had creative idea," she said. She also mentioned being inspired by co-star Amy Seimetz, who plays her mom. Seimetz writes as well as acts, and Laurence said she'd also like to be a writer, fantasy specifically. If she decides to lean towards horror, she could write her next film script for herself.
Jeté Laurence's take on this doomed child will stick with horror buffs for some time to come.