When setting forth to remake a film like John Carpenter's 1982 terrifying classic The Thing, you're treading on thin ice. Despite itself being a remake of a 1958 film (that film was based on a short story, as well), Carpenter's Thing is a masterpiece of horror, a completely numbing experience full of dread, tension, and unbelievably frightening practical special effects. The question of why any studio would bother messing with a good thing is an easy one to answer (because money, stupid), but in the absence of reason, one must then look to how one goes about making such a near-perfect film again for a modern audience.
The wrong way to go about it would be to CG-up the monster to the point of absurdity, rush the pacing so as to kill the masterful tension of the original, and add in a bunch of cheap, slasher-film quality jump scares because that's all that passes for horror nowadays. The right way would perhaps be to pay reverence to the original film by acknowledging its existence, playing into that film's original plot in fun and interesting ways, and maybe even making some delightful references to the best, and most disgusting deaths in the first movie. This 2011 The Thing essentially goes both ways, trying to both pay homage to a classic and relying too heavily on the cheap tricks of the modern horror trade. It's a confused mishmash of slow-paced horror and obnoxious modern ticks that amount to a passable, if mostly insubstantial attempt at crafting something beyond the scope of every other monster flick you've seen in the last few years.
The premise is at least a good one. This Thing begins a short period before Carpenter's Thing does, with a group of Norwegian scientists discovering a massive spaceship hidden beneath the ice of Antarctica, and inside it, a live specimen of...well, something. Presumably because someone didn't think a movie full of bearded Norwegian men would play to a mainstream American audience, a comely young Columbia palentologist (Scott Pilgrim's Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited to fly down and see what's going on. She's joined by a pair of American helicopter pilots (Joel Edgerton and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and an antagonistically egotistical scientist (Ulrich Thomsen), whose obsession with being the discoverer of this find trumps all manner of logic and reason.
That said, he's one of those characters you look forward to watching die a horrible death. Unfortunately, there's a few too many of them here. Whereas the original Thing had great actors like Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, and Donald Moffat exuding an intoxicating mixture of unchecked manliness and sheer terror, here we are mostly treated to a shockingly sleepy, mostly uninteresting crew of generally personality-less husks. Edgerton's not bad, and Winstead has moments, but you never grow to legitimately care if any of these people live or die. Then again, considering the way the 1982 film kicked off, the notion that any of these people might survive seems ludicrous. At the same time, you should still feel something for them.
At least when they are dispatched, they are dispatched in appropriately dysmorphic and disgusting fashion. Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. has no qualms about dishing out the gore in hefty doses, though he mostly does it with heavy globs of CG. The monster was rarely seen full on in the 1982 film. More often, we'd get glimpses of its true nastiness as people and dogs began to change horribly. Heijningen spends too much time showing us too much of the monster, and as a result the payoff toward the end isn't nearly as effective. Still, as someone who likes creative gore, I appreciated the sheer variety of ways in which people's bodies were twisted and broken for our amusement. Unsurprisingly, the best moments come where the CG is less prominent.
If there's any significant issue with that aspect of the film, it's largely how the script goes about setting all those gruesome deaths up. One of the best aspects of Carpenter's film was how seemingly accidental many of the deaths ended up being. The creature wasn't some stalking serial killer of a monster, but rather an animal acting on some kind of defensive instinct. Any time someone was seen being attacked in the 1982 movie, it was a result of someone discovering its hidden identity, and responding violently. Here, the monster stalks, and stalks, and stalks, constantly hunting everyone down like a slasher film bad guy. It seems less bent on survival than just killing everyone in sight.
That results in a few too many weak jump scares for comfort, often resulting in a break up of an otherwise dread-filled scene. The Thing had maybe two or three real jump scares to speak of, and they came out of nowhere. Here, they're predictable, and rarely anything more than a big loud noise meant to startle the character and, by proxy, the audience. It's cheap shit, and sacrifices too much of the dreadful atmosphere.
That atmosphere is something Heijningen manages to cultivate well enough at times, especially in some of the colder, emptier spaces where characters suddenly find themselves alone with nowhere to go. Regrettably, too many of those moments are interrupted by yet another big, loud monster thing shrieking obnoxiously or a character you don't much care for spending way too much time explaining something to someone else when they very clearly should be running the hell away. At its best, The Thing shows flashes of understanding of its predecessor's best qualities, but too often those flashes are obscured by lazy, hacky concepts that have pervasively killed horror movie after horror movie over the last decade. This Thing won't taint your love of John Carpenter's Thing, but it won't do much to aid it, either.