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The Thing [2011] (Review)

The Thing [2011] (Review)

Here's The Thing... it's not very good.
Oct 14, 2011
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The Thing
Genre: Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi Release Date: 13/10/2011 Runtime: 103 minutes Country: USA, Canada


Director:  Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. Writer(s): 
Eric Heisserer

John W. Campbell Jr.

Cast: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Eric Christian Olsen, , Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Paul Braunstein, Ulrich Thomsen
The Thing [2011] (Review), reviewed by Anders Wotzke on 2011-10-14T15:24:07+00:00 rating 2.5 out of5

If you squint really hard during Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s The Thing, you might notice that it’s actually prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic and not a remake. But just barely. The two films are plotted so similarly that if van Heijningen Jr.’s The Thing played out a few days later and a few clicks south, it’d be Carpenter’s The Thing. Only, you know, not nearly as good.

I realise it might be a bit hypocritical to call this film out as a quasi-remake when Carpenter’s film itself was a quasi-remake of Howard Hanks’ The Thing From Another World, both of which are adaptions of the novel ‘Who Goes There?’ by John W. Cambell Jr. But once you’ve made the definitive adaptation – one so immaculately crafted, it still terrifies today as much as it did upon release – you might as well not bother unless you’ve got something dramatically new to say. And if the identical title is any indication, this prequel merely exists to tell what’s already been expertly told with as few flourishes as possible. Sure, this Thing still has its moments, but they’re nothing compared to that Thing.

The consequence of setting the film immediately prior to the events of Carpenter’s film is that Eric Heisserer’s screenplay systematically goes about filling in all the blanks that made the first reel of the original such an eerie and tense presage to the impending horror. Set once more in the glacial deserts of Antarctica, the film tells the tale of what exactly went down in the bloodied Norwegian campsite that is briefly visited by Kurt Russell in the original. Before it became an icy cemetery, the campsite was occupied by the likes of Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) as the headstrong palaeontologist Kate, and Australia’s Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) as the rugged helicopter pilot Carter. The two Americans are roped into aiding a team of Norwegian researchers after they discover an alien spacecraft buried deep beneath the ice and, a short distance away, the frozen remains of its shape-shifting occupant. Of course, they don’t stay remains for very long…

the thing banner 600x249 The Thing [2011] (Review)

While a female protagonist might appear to be a big departure from the original, Kate is such a broadly written character, she could have easily been recast as a male without a single line being altered. What’s more is that Kate goes through the very same motions and arrives at the very same conclusions that MacReady did in the original, almost as if the two were twins separated at birth. Still, like Kurt Russell before her, Mary Elizabeth Winstead does have a leading presence and poise, even if it is a little unlikely for a fresh-faced 26-year-old to be hand-picked as the lead researcher on such a monumental discovery. Then again, she does look good even beneath layers upon layers of clothing, so there’s always that.

To his credit, van Heijningen Jr. is wise enough to give the film a sizeable build-up before any blood is spilt, but he still shows the creature in full effect far too early, undercutting any suspense that comes from a fear of the unknown. Likewise, he disregard the fact that the alien is far more terrifying when it’s feigning as one of the researchers, lurking in human form until it’s alone with one of the survivors before claiming its next victim. Too often van Heijningen lets these scenes play out rather than cutting away like Carpenter did, taking away the “Is he or isn’t he?” suspicions that made the original so unnerving. This relates to the problem with modern CGI over practical effects; whereas it used to take painstaking weeks or months to create a tangible creature, it’s now a (relative) cinch for filmmakers to create a full-bodied creature using CGI. This can be effective in moderation, but just as it was in J.J. Abrams’ Super 8, the technology is overused here to the point where it greatly spoils the horror and suspense. Creatures were far more effective when we didn’t see enough. Now, we see too much.

All of this doesn’t necessarily make The Thing a terrible movie, just a disappointing and unnecessary one. Perhaps if Carpenter’s film never existed, I’d be more inclined to praise van Heijningen Jr.’s The Thing for its compelling concept, competent performances and chilling arctic atmosphere. But alas, Carpenter’s film does exist, leaving this prequel to do little more than undermine the strengths of the original through mimicry and miscalculation, all without improving a single — *ahem* — Thing.

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