Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen
Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen (debut)
Written by: Eric Heisserer (“Final Destination 5”)
The continuing epidemic of remaking and rebooting films has overtaken Hollywood and shows no signs of slowing down. That many of the films selected for a modern treatment have been dormant for decades and aren’t crying out to be re-told seems to be of no concern. Coming nearly 30 years after John Carpenter’s version (a remake itself), “The Thing” serves as a prequel to the cult classic and tries to turn the original’s lasting appeal into box-office success. Unfortunately, the movie itself is a cheap imitation of the original, leaving out much of what made the 1982 version effective and failing to add anything to the mythology.
When a Norwegian scientific team stumbles across a creature frozen in the ice of Antarctica, leader Dr. Sander Halverson (Ulrich Thomson) and his assistant Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen) seek the help from paleontologist Dr. Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to excavate it. The team is flown in by helicopter pilot Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton) and awakens the frozen alien, which they soon find out has the ability to replicate DNA and take the form of a human. Paranoia and terror set in as the team tries to figure out who among them is not who they appear to be.
Winstead is solid as the flame-thrower wielding Kate. Her character, who is thrust into a role of leader when no other options arise, is really the only one who shows depth and growth as she is transformed into a strong and unforgiving leader when her life and the livelihood of others is threatened. Unfortunately, the rest of the supporting characters are underdeveloped and don’t add much to the overall story. Even the second-billed Edgerton isn’t given a strong character to work with, as he is off screen for significant portion of the movie and becomes just another pawn trying to survive when he finally finds his way back to the narrative. Part of the reason that no characters have the chance to develop is that they are picked off before the audience can muster any sort of feeling on them.
In contrast to the original installment, “The Thing” makes use modern CGI technology for its creatures, attack scenes, and effects. Strangely enough, the tired and bland special effects aren’t anywhere nearly as effective as the primitive makeup seen in Carpenter’s version. Groundbreaking at the time, Carpenter’s usage of makeup was perfectly disgusting, oozing with slime and finding that perfect mix of grotesque and creepy. In fact, because the aliens sometimes looked primitive and moved awkwardly, it was perhaps even more unsettling. With this 2011 version, the effects do little to separate themselves from anything else seen in any other science fiction or horror film. Simply put: the new creatures aren’t nearly as disturbing as their predecessors.
There is an underlying feeling of redundancy that goes along with “The Thing.” Although touted as a prequel, and not a remake, it is only so in a chronological sense. The premises, tones, and character arcs are extremely similar, and even borrows a few plot points from the original. The third act of the film very briefly toys with the idea of delving deeper into the origin, but quickly abandons it in a confusing and unnecessary scene. Sure, there are a few cheap jump scares and plenty of action and kills, but the film never makes the audience tense enough to create a true sense of dread.
While there is a post-credits treat that ties this film with the 1982 version quite nicely, fans of Carpenter’s version are given something they’ve seen before. The slick, computer-generated effects are no improvement on the grisly classic, and the film’s odd placement between a remake and a prequel makes it an unimaginative and forgettable.