Director : Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Screenplay : Eric Heisserer (based on the story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr.)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Kate Lloyd), Joel Edgerton (Braxton Carter), Ulrich Thomsen (Dr. Sander Halvorson), Eric Christian Olsen (Adam Goodman), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Jameson), Paul Braunstein (Griggs), Trond Espen Seim (Edvard Wolner), Kim Bubbs (Juliette), Jørgen Langhelle (Lars), Jan Gunnar Røise (Olav), Stig Henrik Hoff (Peder), Kristofer Hivju (Jonas), Jo Adrian Haavind (Henrik), Carsten Bjørnlund (Karl), Jonathan Lloyd Walker (Colin), Ole Martin Aune Nilsen (Matias)
I seriously doubt it was on screenwriter Bill Lancaster’s mind, but he wrote the perfect set-up for a prequel-cum-remake when he penned the script for John Carpenter’s The Thing, a chilly, fantastically grotesque, and nerve-rattling adaptation of John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella “Who Goes There?” (which had previously served as the source material for Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks’s 1951 classic The Thing From Another World). The only real surprise is that, in today’s horror-remake-happy times, it has taken someone this long to take advantage of the door that Lancaster left wide open. After all, the 1982 version of The Thing essentially begins en medias res, with the shape-shifting, identity-stealing alien of the title already on the run after having wreaked havoc on a Norwegian research base in Antarctica, killing almost everyone and leaving behind smoking ruins filled with burned, twisted corpses. The question of what exactly happened at the Norwegian base is the subject of this new prequel, also called The Thing, directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., a commercial director making his feature debut, and written by Eric Heisserer, who wrote last year’s A Nightmare on Elm Street remake and Final Destination 5.
While The Thing is technically a prequel--and a reasonable clever one at that, studiously answering virtually every question left dangling in Carpenter’s film (except what happens at the end)--it also pulls double duty as a kind of disguised remake, recasting Rob Bottin’s memorably gruesome and at times downright surreal prosthetic and animatronic effects with flashy CGI while replaying the exact same scenario, but with different characters. All of the same tensions are present, particularly the paranoia that the person standing next to you might not be a person at all, which undercuts the one reassuring element of horror: the idea that the monster is always recognizable as such. In The Thing, the monstrous alien is able to absorb and mimic any organic life-form it touches, thus the film’s characters spend much of their time trying to figure out who is human and who isn’t before the nonhuman explodes into some kind of tentacle-laden orifice and attacks.
One of the weaknesses of the prequel when compared to Carpenter’s film is that the characters are decidedly less interesting and more interchangeable. Perhaps realizing that U.S. moviegoers wouldn’t be too keen on a horror film that is filled entirely with subtitled Norwegians, Heisserer provides a few American faces to ensure that at least most of the dialogue is spoken in English. Central among these is Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), a paleontologist who is recruited by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) and his assistant, Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen), to help them retrieve an alien life-form that the Norwegian research team has discovered along with its long-buried spaceship hundreds of feet beneath the Arctic ice. Although presumed to be dead, the alien violently awakes and starts either viciously killing or inhabiting the mostly interchangeable bearded researchers until only a small handful are left pointing flamethrowers at each other and demanding to look inside each other’s mouths to check for dental fillings (the thing can’t mimic inorganic matter).
Those familiar with Carpenter’s film will likely appreciate this Thing, even as they recognize that it is an inferior carbon copy that lacks Carpenter’s precision in generating suspense and his morbid sense of black humor (there are a few queasy laughs in the new version, but nothing that compares to the hilariously terrifying moment in Carpenter’s film when the thing starts exploding out of a character who is roped to a sofa with two others). That is not to say that there isn’t much to enjoy here, and Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. should be commended for making a film that works on its own while also paying due homage to its predecessor (Carpenter’s thumping synthesizer score shows up at a few key points). In other words, while The Thing doesn’t score any points for originality or improvement, it is surprisingly deft in maintaining what already works while adding in a few new twists and not making the mistake of trying to explain that which is best left mysterious.
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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