MOVIE REVIEW: The Thing
Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead
As far as Hollywood prequels go, Matthijis van Heijningen Jr.’s update of The Thing isn’t a complete disaster, which is saying a lot considering the serpentine history of its source material. What began as a short story entitled “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr., then was adapted to the screen by Howard Hawks’ in 1951’s The Thing From Another Planet before becoming a permanent staple of the horror genre with John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, now gets a new chapter of carnage that tries to establish a certain aesthetic sensibility even as it panders to our worst viewing impulses.
When so much of mainstream cinema consists of remakes or prequels, it’s nice when a film attempts a truly cinematic tone rather than jam plot mechanics down your throat. 2011’s The Thing allows the brooding, icy atmosphere to envelop the frame, turning the frigid setting of an Antarctica research facility into a kind of tomb for the various scientists and Norwegian galoots grappling with the discovery of a deadly alien being. Blankets of white and blue hues smother each composition, creating a keen sense of suffocation even when the characters themselves are clueless to the level of horror about to unfold. But instead of a sense of paranoia or distrust, we get an overarching feeling of pure fright, which is not nearly as effective an emotion in my mind.
Eventually, as human arrogance and error allows the tentacle-bearing monster to wreak havoc splattering nearly every wall a dim shade of red, the serviceable horror pacing conjures up a few solid jump scares. One sequence late in the film is especially gruesome, utilizing modern special effects to symbolize a terrible image of two human bodies morphing together. Also, the constant threat of lit flamethrowers makes the juxtaposition of opposing elements (fire, ice) a fitting motif. All this despite characters, most heinously the film’s moral center (played by an unconvincing Mary Elizabeth Winstead), explaining every conceivable plot device through unnecessary bits of dialogue. In fact, The Thing is so talky you begin to realize the filmmakers don’t trust the audience enough to understand basic filmmaking techniques like editing and symbolism.
At the very least The Thing respects the 1982 version enough to reference it in clever ways, the most notable being a post-credits sequence that ends exactly where John Carpenter’s version begins. I still can’t bring myself to recommend this film, especially considering the utterly ludicrous space ship-set finale that’s as wooden as it is anti-climactic. As a result, The Thing remains a perfect case study inherent to the conflicting interests at work in any remake/prequel/sequel: one must pay homage to the source material while staking new ground in the narrative mythology. It’s an impossible task, and The Thing comes up short more times than not.