|A prequel of predicatably disappointing proportions||1 out of 1 user found this review helpful.|
John Carpenter’s The Thing is a masterpiece of horror. Most will remember it for its groundbreaking special effects, showcasing a truly terrifying monster with spectacular animatronics that still hold up today, almost thirty years later. Its horrifying presence posed an anomalous threat to our ragtag group of survivors, trapped in the barren and freezing landscape of Antarctica with nowhere to go. By replicating human cells, this being from outer space could be anyone, developing uneasy psychological unrest within the group as they never know who they can truly trust. This dynamic produced a sense of ominous dread and heightening tension that make The Thing a splendid movie to experience; complimented by a phenomenal soundtrack and terrific performances from its ensemble cast – The Thing is as near to perfect as you could ever hope to be.
So how does a 2011 remake/prequel handle such a burden? It certainly pulls elements from its predecessor, almost to a tee, but ultimately it fails to maintain its initial suspense, losing its direction and delving into your typical Hollywood, monster movie tropes by its conclusion.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead (of Scott Pilgrim vs The World fame) certainly does an amiable job in the lead role: a Colombia palaeontologist recruited to fly down to Antarctica to help uncover some kind of mysterious, historical discovery. That discovery is, of course, The Thing itself, frozen into the ice; its gargantuan ship buried beneath the snow. Being a prequel, 2011’s The Thing follows the original Norwegian expedition, so we already know things don’t go particularly well for them. After some examination and looks of awe on behalf of the cast, the monster is transported back to the Norwegian’s base where they plan to conduct tests and attempt to remove The Thing from its icy prison. Obviously things don’t go nearly as smoothly as they would have hoped, and before long the monster is alive and on the loose, wrecking the requisite havoc one might expect.
It’s a slow burn up until that point, however. We’re introduced to myriad characters, most of them Scandinavian actors – which is a nice, authentic touch – but we never really get to significantly know any of them. There’s an awful lot of early screen time dedicated to looking at a block of ice and meeting these characters, but none of them are fleshed out enough that we ever really care what happens to them. They’re either likeable or detestable so it has that going for it, but essentially they’re just one-dimensional blocks of flesh to be disposed of in a gratuitously violent way later on. It works for contemporary, brainless slasher flicks, but you’d hope for more craft and guile from something titled The Thing, particularly when weak characters fail to muster anything but minimal tension.
The slow start does lend itself to an air of trepidation but it never captures that same foreboding sense of dread, or even psychological mistrust you might expect. One scene is unequivocally pulled straight from the original movie, as the group devises a test to determine who is and isn’t an alien. It’s methodical, building a portentous apprehension, but it fails to muster satisfying results, showcasing how far ahead John Carpenter’s vision was. These moments are still the film’s biggest strength, eliciting memories of the original film, but that’s primarily because the latter half loses focus and becomes an altogether different beast.
One fatal flaw is that it’s often too predictable who is a hidden Thing, so it’s no surprise when they reveal their true colours, damaging any suspense the movie was trying to achieve. Fortunately, the monster designs are faithful to the original with plenty of disturbingly terrifying concoctions of man and beast. The shift to CG doesn’t produce the same tangible feel of the animatronics, but it does allow for some more inventive aspects, particularly in the transformations. But even problems arrive here as director, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. opts to ram the monster down our throats, spewing it over the screen at almost every opportunity.
There is no mystery: it’s proudly displayed for us all to see, and this affects both the narrative and the pacing as The Thing divulges into one of the aforementioned slasher flicks. This is no longer a monster working in self-defence, killing people after it’s discovered. Instead, it’s intent on killing every single person at the base, stalking its prey like Jason Voorhees or Leatherface. Characters begin making dumbfounded decisions, the death toll rackets up within a few minutes, and it becomes all too science-fiction as it reaches an anti-climatic resolution. After a slow opening it suddenly shoots into life and then it’s all over; constantly stuttering and starting throughout its runtime, struggling to maintain a consistent pace and find an identity of its own. The deaths are certainly entertaining but lack imagination so it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in a million other horror films, minimising the satisfaction gleaned from indulgent gore.
Ultimately The Thing is an all too derivative monster movie; it has its moments but it falters in all the ways that made John Carpenter’s The Thing such a phenomenal movie. It’s mildly entertaining at the best of times but that’s faint praise for a film lacking in memorable moments. If anything, it will only heighten your appreciation of the original. So rather than see this, do yourself a favour and take the alternate route: just sit back, relax, and watch Kurt Russell do his thing. That’s always the best option.
Box Office Winners League: 10/14/11
Rorie, Ryan, and Norm kickoff the inaugural season of the most extreme box office prediction sport!
Trailer: The Thing
Ramona Flowers fights an alien in this remake/prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 classic.
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