The Thing

When a trio of Norwegian scientists fall through a hole in the ice while tracking a strange – some might say almost alien – signal, they’re saved from near-certain death only when their vehicle becomes stuck in the crevice. Discovering a frozen specimen lodged in the icy depths, the team decide the only thing to do is to source great minds from around the world, stick them in the frozen tundra and wait for things to get gnarly. The research group, headed by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), his assistant Adam Finch (Eric Christian Olsen) and paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) are horrified to learn that the creature is still alive, and upon its subsequent (inevitable) escape the team find themselves locked in battle with an entity which can imitate any living creature…

With this summer’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes showing that prequels are not – as a concept – completely without merit, The Thing is a welcome affirmation of the device’s validity. While there will be those who dismiss the resultant film out of hand as a pale and unneccessary imitation of a bona fide classic – God knows the film is not without its flaws, a replica that is missing much more than just its metal fillings – it is nevertheless a competent piece of filmmaking which entertains on its own while also working as a companion piece to John Carpenter’s original. SO THAT’S WHY THERE WAS A GIANT HOLE IN THE ROOF.

The thing I liked most about The Thing was just how genuinely horrifying it was. Whereas the current horror landscape is awash with understatement and realism – from retrospective paranormal activity to rage addled they’re-not-zombies, Hollywood having apparently tamed the genre – The Thing‘s mission statement is far more overt. From our first introduction to the titular entity, a genuinely traumatic crab-gina which would put even Lovecraft’s Cthulu off replicating lifeforms for life, it is clear that director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr has just as acute an eye for vulgarity as Carpenter ever did – making full use of the technological innovations which have come to fruition in the intervening years.

While no travesty, however, and despite an hour and a half of solid squirming, this is no instant classic either. Van Heijningen has taken measures to distance himself from the original (itself a remake) – not least by setting his movie prior to the events of Carpenter’s film – but there is an overriding sense of deja vu which is impossible to ignore. Couple that with the fact that the audience – at least those familiar with the previous movie – already knows what is going to happen in the end, and there is very little on offer to keep them invested. The story actively dismisses new avenues of exploration, the hulking alien space-craft apparently forgotten while the research group wait for ice to melt.

It is the cast which ultimately lets the film down. A dearth of characterisation aside from the usual ‘men are bastards’ and ‘women are survivors’ styling that seems to have permeated the genre since Carpenter’s own heyday severely damages the picture, with duff performances and little evident effort to flesh out anyone but Winstead’s Kate Lloyd doing little to warrant audience support. I don’t know about you, subtitle wary cinemagoers, but I would have much preferred a movie devoid of all-American heroes, in which the Norwegian research team faced off against the thing on their own terms and in their own language. I wanted more of Kristofer Hivju’s mad, bulging eyes and slightly less of Joel Edgerton.

Although few will argue that it truly satisfies, there is no denying that Matthijs van Heijningen Jr’s The Thing is a much better movie than forecasters would have had you believe. A solid and effective frightener, the film compensates for the facelessness of its cast and the cloying familiarity of its story with an unabashedly demented aesthetic that beautifully imitates Carpenter’s own sight for sick eyes.

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