GOOD intentions don’t always work out the way you want them too and sadly that appears to be the case with Matthis van Heijningen Jr’s pseudo-prequel/remake of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Set before the events of Carpenter’s 1982 movie, which itself was a loose remake of the1951 feature The Thing from Another World, the movie tells the story of an encounter with a shape-shifting, extra-terrestrial creature at a Norwegian research facility the camp in the Antarctic. A facility that was briefly seen in the early stages of Carpenter’s movie.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the film’s central character, Kate Lloyd a paleontologist recruited to accompany an American team to the facility in Antarctica. The team aims to examine the frozen remains of a creature found in the ice close to the Norwegian camp, remains that may, in fact, be extra-terrestrial.
All hell breaks loose as the creature escapes from its frozen encasement and Kate quickly discovers that it can replicate human beings, hiding behind their identities as it attempts to infect others. She notices that while the creature can replicate organic tissue, it can’t replicate inorganic matter such as dental fillings, so in a twist the to the iconic blood test scene from Carpenter’s film this time around we have the group examining each other’s teeth as they try to discover who still is who they say they are.
That’s as tense as it gets throughout this film and completely fails to recapture the nail-biting tension of its predecessor. With its tagline ‘man is the warmest place to hide’, Carpenter’s film had almost claustrophobic levels of tension in abundance as Kurt Russel and co battled against an unknown alien menace, not knowing if they were amongst friend or foe. It also set a benchmark for practical horror effects, makeup specialist Rob Bottin, who was only 22 when the film was made rightfully won considerable praise for his inventive use of prosthetic effects. The infamous spider head, the defibrillator scene or the husky transformation horrified cinemagoers back in 1982 and they still continue to terrify audiences over 30 years later.
Sadly this film completely fails to capture any real tension amongst its group, there’s an attempt to develop a subplot as the Norwegians and Americans start to turn on each other, but it’s just so underdeveloped and quickly dropped as the body-snatching madness begins. The tension was such an important aspect of what made the original work, whilst Carpenter’s film had its gorier moments, it was the tension between the group of men that really made it work, we just don’t get that here and the film is left to rely on the shock value of the body morphing alien creature and lets be honest the CGI gribblies are pretty piss poor.
It’s not all doom and gloom, Winstead’s character is a strong female presence within this male-dominated feature, she confidently holds her own onscreen, channeling Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley from Alien. Joel Edgerton’s Helicopter pilot, Carter might be a pale imitation of Kurt Russell’s R..J. MacReady from the original, but he still manages to stand out amongst the crowd.
Despite all its nods to Carpenters film, all this remake manages to do is remind viewers what a masterpiece Carpenter’s paranoia-filled original was. Ultimately the inherent problem with any prequel is that we know where this story is heading, the onus on the writers is to try and make that journey interesting and I don’t think they’ve managed to do that here.
Did we really need to know what happened at the Norwegian campsite from the original? Sometimes it’s better not to know, as viewers we don’t need to know everything, sometimes a little mystique can go a very long way.