The Thing

thing2011

Movie review by Greg Carlson

“The Thing” purports to be a prequel to John Carpenter’s fantastic reimagining of the legendary 1951 Howard Hawks/Christian Nyby sci-fi classic “The Thing from Another World,” but recycles enough content – including, rather confusingly, the title – to behave in several ways as a remake or imitation of the 1982 version. The feature directorial debut of Dutch moviemaker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., “The Thing” returns to the bleak, snowswept landscape of an Antarctic research station where an international group led by a contingent of Norwegians stumbles upon a terrifying extraterrestrial able to mimic the human form.

“The Thing” is a mélange of familiar genre signifiers, splicing together elements of “The Old Dark House” formula in which the killer is hidden in plain sight among a collection of unfortunates trapped in an all but impossible to escape location, the final girl concept, the body horror so expertly accomplished in Carpenter’s vision, and plenty of scenes in which the grotesque abnormality stalks corridors in search of prey. Sad, then, that the movie favors shock over suspense and falls so short in pacing, intellectual curiosity, and ability to sustain any excitement – a far cry from what Anne Billson described when she identified Carpenter’s movie as “not just one of the greatest horror movies of all time, but as something of a Gesamt Kunstwerk of the genre.”

In the new film’s most welcome decision, the story’s protagonist is an American paleontologist named Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whose intelligence, leadership, observational abilities and grace under pressure reflect favorably on her life expectancy when the others begin to panic. The casting of Winstead in the central role sets the table for van Heijningen to crib relentlessly from the Ellen Ripley playbook, and the director even composes one shot as direct homage to the iconic image of H.R. Giger’s ooze-dripping killer in uncomfortably close proximity to Sigourney Weaver’s dismayed visage.

With the exception of Winstead, a pilot played by Joel Edgerton, and Ulrich Thomsen’s bossy leader, almost all of the remaining characters are nearly indistinguishable from one another, and the lack of personality diminishes audience interest as the creature inevitably reduces the population. In the new version, the alien cannot replicate inorganic matter, a device that only superficially alters the tension of the blood test sequence from 1982. As for the incarnations of the Thing itself, the movie sticks close to the template established by Rob Bottin’s original, legendary special effects work, from the twisted fusion of conjoined faces to the creep of feminized, Dore-esque arachnid locomotion.

Winstead wields a flamethrower with considerably less swagger than Kurt Russell’s R.J. “Mac” MacReady, and despite the performer’s valiant efforts to breathe as much life as possible into an underwritten and very sober role, “The Thing” lacks a great deal of the preoccupation with human nature and motive so easily recognized in both of the earlier incarnations of John W. Campbell Jr.’s 1938 “Astounding Stories” novella “Who Goes There?” The durable story, with its themes of paranoia, imposters, surrogacy and parasitism, still has more than enough fans and admirers to draw the curious into the cinema for this latest telling – disappointing though it may be.

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