The Thing (2011)

GOOD intentions don’t always work out the way you want; sadly this appears to be the case with prequel horror movie The Thing.

Set before the events of John Carpenters 1982 movie also entitled, The Thing. The film tells the story of an encounter with a shape shifting, extra-terrestrial creature at a Norwegian research facility. The camp in the Antarctic was briefly seen in Carpenter’s film.

Dutch director Matthis van Heijningen Jr makes his directorial debut on the project, which has an adapted screenplay by Eric Heisserer, loosely based on the classic short story by John W. Campbell, Who Goes There?. The film’s tagline reads: “It’s not human, yet.”

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the films central character Kate Lloyd, a paleontologist recruited to accompany an American team to the facility in Antarctica. The team aim to examine the frozen remains of a creature found in the ice close to the Norwegian’s camp. The remains may possibly be extra-terrestrial.

All hell breaks loose at the creature, escapes from its frozen encasement. Kate discovers that the creature can replicate human beings, hiding itself behind their identities as it attempts to infect others.

She notices that while the creature is able to replicate organic tissue, it can’t replicate inorganic matter, such as dental fillings. As paranoia takes hold of the group, they begin to examine each other’s teeth. Trying to discover who within the group is still whom they claim to be.

Sadly the film never manages to capture the magic of the 1982 original. Carpenter’s film had a claustrophobic feeling to it, as the tension grew between the group; they battled an unknown menace, not knowing if they were amongst friend or foe. The film gave a real sense of isolation the men felt. Its brilliant tagline read: “Man is the warmest place to hide.”

The film set a bench mark for special effects at the time. Makeup specialist Rob Bottin, only 22 when the film was made, won praise for his inventive use of prosthetic effects. The infamous spider head scene horrified and mesmerised audiences nearly three decades ago.

Sadly, the 2011 prequel fails to capture the same magic as Carpenter’s film. It fails to build the tension among the group members, such an important part of the original. Instead it focuses on the shock value on the body morphing alien creature. With averagely executed CGI, even the alien itself is a let-down. Characterization becomes cliché, some of the film’s characters become little more than cannon fodder for the screen.

There is an attempt to develop a subplot of the Norwegians against Americans within the group. It’s a concept that has some potential but is so underdeveloped by the director it becomes lost as the body snatching madness continues.

It’s not all doom and gloom, Winstead’s character is a strong female presence within the male dominated camp. As events unfold, she firmly takes control of the situation. Her character is a strong female heroine in the mould of Signory Weaver’s, Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise.

Helicopter pilot, Carter (Joel Edgerton) also manages to stand out amongst the crowd. Admittedly his character seems awfully similar to Kurt Russell’s, R.J. MacReady from the original movie.

Despite the various visual homages to Carpenters film, it’s hard to tell if fans will welcome the prequel, regardless how well-intentioned it may be. The focus on the CGI splatter fails to cover up the lack of tension that the Dutch director fails to establish.

Rise Of The Planets of the Apes showed how a prequel can successfully be achieved; sadly while The Thing is perfectly watchable, it’s a little underwhelming. Its greatest achievement will be to make fans nostalgic for Carpenter’s film. In the hands of a more experienced horror director this paranoia thriller may have been a very different film.

Review by James McClean


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