I’ve often said that I’m not a fan of horror movies, but after watching The Thing I’ve come to realise that that’s just not the case. I love horror movies, the problem is that most of them are crap. Harsh, but true. Fortunately, this year’s The Thing is – *gasp* – actually good. Moreover, it might be one of the best prequels in recent memory.
What’s that you say? The Thing is a prequel?! You heard right. Despite what its title would have you believe, The Thing is actually a prequel to John Carpenter’s sci-fi/horror cult-classic The Thing (1982), which itself was a remake of The Thing from Another World (1951). Confused yet? For some strange reason the new film has the same name as Carpenter’s original. Don’t be mistaken: The Thing (2011) is not a remake!
The basic plot is that a team of Norwegian and American scientists discover an alien life form frozen in the Antarctic ice. Believing it to be dead, they excavate it. Of course, the creature is still alive and starts to kill off the researchers one by one in their remote research station. The trick is that ‘the thing’ replicates any animal or person it consumes, so the movie turns into a whodunit with characters trying to figure out who is human and who isn’t.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) is Dr. Kate Lloyd, a vertebrate paleonthologist who keeps a cool head and logically tries to think her way through the chaos – she channels Ellen Ripley from the Alien series and is a similarly strong female lead. Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) supports as Sam Carter. He has past military experience which comes in handy. The rest of the cast are well-rounded and it’s good to see that they tend not to do moronic things that get themselves killed, though the film isn’t afraid to rely on them for cheap jump scares. Boo!
Nevertheless, there’s a great deal of paranoia as nobody is sure who to trust, and it’s compelling to observe the changing dynamics of the characters as they slowly turn on one another. This is emphasised by the Antarctic setting, which underscores their isolation and the danger they find themselves in.
Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. is clearly a big fan of the genre and his influences can be felt throughout. In particular, the treatment of the screenplay reminded me a lot of Ridley Scott’s original Alien. There’s also a great reverence and respect for The Thing (1982), and the filmmakers do a great job of tying this one into the original. Nothing feels shoe-horned or contrived and it’s obvious that a good deal of care was taken to replicate the look and feel of Carpenter’s classic (even recreating the sets) – this is truly commendable and an example for others to follow.
A lot of this care will be lost on audiences but I’m nonetheless impressed by how well The Thing (2011) complements the almost 30-year-old original, even if the plot structure does feel a little derivative. The only other issue I have is with the design of ‘the thing’ itself, as it lacks definition (I’ve always wondered what it’s true form looks like) and the CGI isn’t always convincing – Carpenter’s practical effects are still much more impressive.
All in all however, I came out of The Thing impressed by its craftsmanship and feeling nostalgic for some of my favourite sci-fi/horrors (Alien, Event Horizon, Pitch Black), not because The Thing was bad but, on the contrary, because it was good and far better than I’d expected. If only Prometheus would hurry up and come out…