Film Review: The Thing (2011)

SYNOPSIS:

 At an Antarctica research site, the discovery of an alien craft leads to a confrontation between graduate student Kate Lloyd and scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson.

REVIEW:

Here it is! What is probably the most anticipated horror film of the fall, if not the year, has finally arrived. Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr’s “Prequel” to John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks original (Whew! Try saying that three times quickly) hits multiplexes all over the country today. And everyone who is a fan of Carpenter’s film has been questioning why it was even attempted 30 years later. Why mess with perfection?

Well it helps to remember that this isn’t a remake (So many people continuing to call this a remake knowing it’s a prequel makes me crazy). Perhaps because it looks so familiar to Carpenter’s film in the previews that have trickled out over the summer. It certainly does bear a great visual resemblance to Carpenter’s film but you must realize that it takes place in the same time frame as his does. It’s just happening in a different location.

But what about the movie? Is it any good you ask? Let’s get to the plot first, A group of Norweigian researchers holed up in Antarctica have stumbled upon what seems to be a craft of some type buried deep under the frozen ground. Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to help study the object & it’s passenger which sits frozen in a block of ice some 200 feet from the spacecraft. Once she arrives at the site and sees the craft & it’s passenger she wants to set up a protocol & run some tests but Halvorson wants a tissue sample taken immediately over her objections. Afterwards, in a tense scene he warns her never to question his authority in front of the others & to do what she is told to do without comment.

Meanwhile, celebrations abound on camp because of their amazing discovery & the fame it will bring them. All the while, the block of ice containing the alien is sitting in another room. Melting slowly away. One of the men, Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) hears a sound coming from the room holding the block of ice & goes to investigate. He gets up close & personal with the creature inside, wiping away some frost to get a better look at it. It seems to be some sort of insectoid, with long crab like arms & pincers but we can’t really be sure as we don’t get a good look at it through the ice. After a cheap scare from one of his fellow researchers, he gets up to leave when all of a sudden the thing bursts forth from the ice & up into the rafters of the building housing it. That’s when all hell breaks loose…

He has to convince the others of what just happened and once he does they mobilize into smaller groups to find it. Not too long after it is found hiding under a building and has just managed to begin to ingest one of the men when it is shot & burned to death. Upon autopsy, the figure of the man it was eating is found inside of it, nearly fully formed. As if being prepared to be reborn… lloyd has found through studying the victims blood cells that not only are the cells still alive but they are being absorbed & replicated by the alien’s blood cells. The creature is trying to imitate them. She makes another discovery as well, she finds what seem to be fillings from somebody’s teeth wrapped in some tissue in a bathroom in which she also finds a blood soaked shower (The Thing can only replicate organic matter, it spits out the rest). She manages to flag down a helicopter being piloted by Braxton Carter (Joel Edgerton, doing his best Kurt Russell imitation) that is attempting to take a man wounded by the thing to a hospital but as it turns out, one of his passengers has already been infected & turns into a thing before the chopper can land. Carter loses control & the copter seemingly flies over a cliff and crashes.

It’s here where Kate tells the others of her worse fears & how no one can leave until a way can be found to find out who is & who isn’t infected. The way she devises a test to figure this out is very similar to the “Blood Test” scene in Carpenter’s film & is just as tense but brings a bit of humor to it as well. Once we have the “Clean’ & the “Possibly Infected” characters separated, it’s a race to find out if she’s right & what to do next.

Comparisons to Carpenter’s film are of course, unavoidable. Especially given the extremely similar set pieces that they both share. Heijningen has done his homework and has crafted quite the visual homage to Carpenter’s film. It looks great. In fact, the movie itself is a very well made chiller that doesn’t have a slow moment in it. It kicks into high gear almost immediately & never lets it’s foot off of the accelerator. But this is also one of it’s problems…

It has none of the slow dread that Carpenter crafted in his film. That film took it’s time to let us know it’s characters & their personalities before the sh*t hits the fan. It’s a deliberate “Slow Burn” type of style that heightened the tension & the growing distrust between the men as they start to mistrust each other & allow paranoia to set in. Heijningen has no time for any of that nonsense. He just gives each character a few lines to let us hear what they look like in the beginning and lets the beastie do the rest of the heavy lifting.

As to our titular “Thing”…well we all knew that it was going to be a CGI creation for most of it’s screen time (I knew that, didn’t you)? But there are some practical effects thrown in there every so often so as not to insult the purists I would imagine. It’s about a 90-10 CGI to Practical effect split. The creature designs are first rate though. I found them very reminiscent of Lovecraft’s “Cthulu” mythos. They beasts are also extremely aggressive, something we never saw in Carpenters film. Here there are long protracted scenes of the thing chasing cast members down hallways & actively hunting for them. In addition there are transformation scenes that but for a little tweaking could have been lifted outright from Carpenter’s film as well. Not that that’s a bad thing per se, but be ready to be very familiar with a lot that goes on in this film.

Which Leads me to my biggest problem with the film. It seems that as soon as Kate makes her discovery, everybody in there with her has been infected. The thing goes viral really quickly here. Far too quickly for my taste. In Carpenter’s film, we only see two scenes in which someone might’ve been infected. And they’re filmed in silhouette, with only shadows so we don’t even know who might be in danger. Then those scenes just silently fade to black. Beautiful & scary as sh*t. Here we never even get an idea how anyone except the first victim could have been infected, they just are. It’s as if the director wanted to get rid of the majority of the cast as quickly as possible to get to the final showdown.

I will admit that the script very smartly addresses all of the corpses found in Carpenter’s film and how they ended up in the state they were found in by Macready & company (Stay around after the end credits begin to roll to see how they connect this film to the beginning of Carpenter’s film). But despite that there was one loose thread left over which I won’t mention because I might just be nuts. But there is a bit of an opening left here, as minimal & insignificant as it seems to be.

 

All in all, I feel comfortable giving “The Thing” a solid three shroud rating. It’s well acted, directed & sharply written to boot. It’s not like we don’t know as soon as the film begins that everybody in it is going to die so there’s no surprises there. I just wish that there was some of that dread & paranoia that made Carpenter’s film so memorable in it. That’s why his film is a legitimate classic today. It just made you nervous as you watched the small society in it crumble as mistrust slowly set in & turned them all against each other. This prequel has none of that but it does have more than enough action to keep your eyes glued to the screen & even a bit of humor if you pay attention (Listen to what’s playing on the radio in a few scenes). You know you’re going to see it this weekend no matter what I say but I think you’ll enjoy it as long as you realize that this isn’t the “Thing” of yore…

The Thing (2011)

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Those of you who don't know of The Black Saint & have yet to commit yourselves to him body, mind & soul will find yourselves in a most uncomfortable position when my army of acolytes is complete & ready to wreak havok upon this pitiful blue ball we live on. Oh, I really like horror movies as well & will take on all comers in a horror trivia contest. Bring it on!
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