A Norwegian man precariously perched on the running board of a helicopter, crazy eyed and frantic with high-powered rifle in hand, hot on the heels of an Alaskan dog. The jagged toothed maw of a caved-in roof, dawning ominously above a hollowed-out block of ice. A research facility reduced to nothing but smoking embers and slit-throat corpses. And a two-headed humanoid husk, left smoking in the snow, like a grotesque monument to nightmares.
These are some of the mystifying scenes that greeted viewers at the start of John Carpenter’s 1982 cult classic, The Thing, the preceding events of which have always been unexplained. Now this prequel of the same name tries to shed light on those maddening events.
But was this a mystery better left alone?
Set just a few days before the start of Carpenter’s film, director Matthijs Van Heijningen Jr’s prequel begins with paleontologist Dr Kate Lloyd (Scott Pilgrim’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead) being flown by helicopter pilots, Carter (Warrior‘s Joel Edgerton) and Jameson (Lost‘s Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje) to a remote Antarctic station, where a group of Norwegian researchers have discovered what appear to be a crashed alien vessel and lifeform buried deep in the ice. The lifeform is initially thought dead, but after the ice in which it was trapped begins to melt, it escapes in violent fashion and the snow is turned scarlet with the blood of the researchers.
However, Lloyd soon discovers that the creature possesses a unique genetic trait, in that it can mimic it’s prey after killing them. Paranoia runs rampant as everybody realizes that the deadly creature may actually be hiding amongst/inside them. And with an incoming storm restricting contact with any outsiders, it sets the scene for a sci-fi horror, brimming with razor-wire tension.
Except, we’ve already seen this movie before. In fact, it even had the same name. You see, despite what the film studios tell you, the tricksy Hobbitses, this movie is more a remake than a prequel. What potentially could have been a worthy expansion of The Thing‘s mythos, ends up being an almost beat-by-beat recreation of the original.
But whereas Carpenter’s version played up the paranoid tension to sadistically delicious effect, this attempt relies more on gore and cheap shock tactics for the most part. It’s only in those few scenes where the creature is nowhere to be seen, (well, not overtly, at least) that hints of that wasted potential shines through. One scene in particular, where Lloyd tests a way of identifying those that have possibly been taken over, is edge-of-you- seat stuff. Had writer Eric Heisser’s script (the same writer of the recent listless and unscary Nightmare on Elm Street remake) given me 90 minutes of that, I would have been pretty happy. A bundle of frayed nerves with no fingernails, but satisfied.
Alas, not only is the scene ruined by a glaringly obvious logic faux pas (SPOILER WARNING. Highlight to read: the creature supposedly can’t mimic inanimate materials, yet has no problem making clothes?), but it’s only a matter of time before it devolves into B-Grade creature-feature territory. And that is the story of the entire film: for every good idea or scene that it has (and really, there are a few great ones), it has two more comprised of nothing but cliche and cartoonish violence.
Now you may be wondering why I called the violence “cartoonish”, when earlier I alluded to how gory it is. Well, the original famously made use of ghastly practical make-up effects and animatronics to create the nightmare-twisted creatures, whereas now CGI is the weapon of choice. The problem is that the CGI, despite now allowing the director to setup more realistic encounters, paradoxically lends the film an unrealistic tint. It’s only in those sparse scenes where practical effects are used, that the horror suddenly becomes a bit more real.
The acting, for the most part, also does not provide that much-needed elevation of the material. Having recently watched the fabulous Warrior, that is a particularly disappointing fact in Edgerton’s case. He and Agbaje occupy the generic action men role far too comfortably. Winstead is the lone standout among the otherwise average performances, and in a genre where females are typically relegated to the role of big-breasted-bimbo-that-screams-and-dies, it’s refreshing to see a female character that has both intelligence and bravery, as well as being easy on the eye.
In the end though, this is a mostly pointless prequel/remake (pre-make?) that forgets, as so many so-called horror films do nowadays, that there is a vast chasm of difference between a scare and a shock. A shock is a sharp, momentary excitement of your senses, whereas a scare – a true scare – burrows deep into your subconscious and nests there. Something that this completely fails to do, due to it’s lacklustre by-the-numbers script. This knockoff, despite having a few standout scenes, ends up being definitively average overall and proves that old axiom that the mystery is often far more interesting than it’s answer.
Last Updated: January 9, 2012