A movie titled so-simply as The Thing sounds mysterious, ominous, and elusive. Sadly, things aren’t always as they appear. The Thing is a prequel to 1982’s The Thing, a remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another World, which was a novelization of John Campbell Jr.’s novella “Who Goes There?” about a mysterious … thing. Now if that sounds like one “Thing” too many, you are correct.
Essentially a play-by-play remake of the original, but with a singular scene that plays over the end credits to disguise itself as a prequel, The Thing 2.0 (or is it actually 1.0 since it takes place earlier?) is set in Antarctica, 1982. In one of the director’s only inventive choices, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Final Destination 3, Scott Pilgrim vs the World) effectively takes over for Kurt Russell as the paleontologist lead. Recruited last minute to a Norwegian base-camp to investigate a breakthrough discovery, Winstead’s know-it-all attitude is shocked to see the frozen remains of an intergalactic alien.
But quicker than the ethically questionable scientist (a one-note Ulrich Thomsen) can say, “I just want to extract a small tissue sample,” the Thing (which looks like a cross between a Predator, an Alien, and a sea crustacean that got too close to a nuclear power plant) escapes from its ice cube prison.
With the slow-reacting Norwegians and the ammo-ready Americans (including the films few semi-recognizable faces such as Warrior’s Joel Edgerton and Fired Up!’s Eric Christian Olsen) not knowing what they are dealing with, it isn’t until a gruesome transformation, that makes the Alien-chestbuster scene look kid-friendly, do we learn what is going on. The prehistoric and cunning creature can eat its prey and then replicate the dead cells.
As the constantly panic-stricken yet slowest-running movie heroine ever, Winstead finally realizes, the Thing’s powers, long after the audience catches on, turning into a body-invasion paranoia film … or at least that is the attempt.
Dutch commercial-turned-film director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (the spelling of his name might be the scariest thing about his feature-length debut) cannot seem to build any semblance of tension. You can almost hear him yell, “Add more blood!” to cover up the problem of a lack of scares. In fact, this more or less happened. Originally to be released last April, the film under went reshoots to “add punctuation marks to enhance the film’s feeling of dread,” reportedly said producer Marc Abraham. The paranoia aspect, while nicely set up, is constantly undercut by the “genius” scientists overzealous sneers and stupidity. After Winstead gives a speech on how one (or more) of them can be an alien in disguise, she goes, “Now lets split up in pairs of twos for supplies.” I’m not sure if there was a loud sound after that line meant as a jump scare or if it was just the collective noise of the audience smacking their foreheads.
The John Carpenter directed ’82 version of The Thing shocked viewers with its gruesome kills and stomach-churning dissection sequences. After the last seven Saw filled Octobers, The Thing’s long and unflinching operating table slice-n-dice of the alien, while queasy, seems less for horror and more out of satisfying audience expectations.
In fact, screenwriter Eric Heisserer’s (also responsible for Augusts’ much-better tongue-in-cheek screamer Final Destination 5) screenplay seems like a giant checklist of great moments in the original film to keep the fans satisfied and modern-day clichés (aka excessive gore and all show, no tell of the creature) to stay within the status quo. Heisserer does do a good job at keeping the massive ensemble cast in balance; but don’t worry about learning how to pronounce the Norwegian names for the alien’s pincers do an effective job of easily slicing, stabbing, and severing the cast down to a final four.
Winstead is likable as the lead and given enough sympathy and intelligence for the audience to care for her survival. Unbelievable as a paleontologist, questioning her lines rather than stating them, Mary surprisingly makes a convincing badass, liberally taking a blowtorch to her human/alien counterparts.
A mix between make-up and CGI, the effects in the film remain video game quality; more laughable than terrifying. The mutations are the worst offender to poor, plastic-y animation, although by the tenth time this happens, the chuckles have subsided into eye rolls.
Like the alien creature, The Thing has seemingly extracted the DNA from its predecessor and superficially duplicated it. Unfortunately, fear and tension are something that cannot merely be copied.
Review By Ryan Mazie