Mosaic / Reviews / October 26, 2011

Review: Blood-sucking monster mediocre

Matthijs van Heijningen The Thing — released to theatres October 14 — is a prequel to John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” Carpenter’s original seminal horror classic is about a grotesque, body-snatching alien tormenting the denizens of a research facility in Antartica and opens with The Thing coming off the heels of a similar event at a nearby Norwegian facility. Van Heijningen’s film is based around that Norwegian incident.

In the film, a group of Norwegian scientists tumble into a chasm containing a spaceship. The head of their facility, Dr. Sander (Ulrich Thomsen) promptly enlists American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to help them excavate this groundbreaking discovery. They dig up the spaceship’s owner, frozen in a block of ice. Since this is a horror film prequel, we know the creature will thaw and wreak unholy havoc.

This version of “The Thing” understands its predecessor, but superficially. It struggles to find its own identity while paying homage to Carpenter’s original and playing it commercially safe. As a consequence, it achieves no identity. It simply bores.

The “Thing” at the story’s core is supposed to be a terrifying beast. It consumes other species’ blood in order to simulate their appearance. When disguised, it is invisible. When shifting forms or bracing for attack, it grows tentacles, claws and endless lines of teeth, all while maintaining parts of its original disguise. Van Heijningen’s “Thing,” however, is built from CGI. We clearly perceive it as a grid on a computer screen manipulated by humans. The illusion of diving into the unknown disappears.

The script further wastes the Thing by blowing its cover too early. In Carpenter’s original film, we first met the alien in disguise as a husky. The facade was blatant, but the movie took its sweet time revealing the horror beneath. We first see this Thing breaking out of its prison in an explosive spray of ice, before turning into a mass of undulating tentacle-teeth. Afterwards, the film maintains suspense long enough only to misguide our suspicions before springing a batch of face-sucking, “Alien” rip-off worms at us.

Where we should be dreading the Thing’s powers and fearing its next appearance, we see a clumsy, artificial Frankenstein hobbling around unintelligently in plain sight. It’s around the time the alien first strikes that the movie stops being scary. For a horror movie, that is a fundamental flaw.

Other problems persist. Although Winstead works hard to elevate her character beyond the generic female scientist, she cannot hide the fact her character, alongside Dr. Sanders, his assistant Adam (Eric Christian Olsen) and a pair of American chopper pilots exist solely to have characters speaking in English. Can’t the filmmakers trust Americans to sympathize with foreign characters? It kills off most the Norwegians, leaving us with vapid, gung-ho Americans to remain indifferent to.

A single, creative revelation — the Thing cannot emulate artificial pieces like earrings — leads to a rehash of a superior scene from the original film. The Thing only succeeds in its last moments, in a scene recreating, shot-for-shot, the opening of Carpenter’s classic. As they say, if you can’t beat them, join them… and then replace everything they accomplished with mediocrity.

Ivan Keta
Ivan Keta is a weekly film columnist for The Knox Student. In 2013, he won first place in Critical Film Review from the Illinois College Press Association, competing in the open division against dozens of other Illinois college newspapers.

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