The makers of the new The Thing, a prequel to John Carpenter’s legendary horror film of the exact same name, did something really smart when they made the film. The went in a different direction. Instead of trying to match the original film’s brilliant use of mystery and tension as the stranded scientist attempted to figure out who was an alien and who wasn’t the new The Thing ditched that effort and went for what is mostly an alien monster film. This different direction is the movie is either its biggest strength or greatest weakness depending on what you want out of a movie named The Thing.
The third film to be based on the short story “Who Goes There?” (most peope ignore the first film, The Thing From Another World) The Thing is literally a direct prequel to the original The Thing. Taking place way back in 1982 the film opens with the discovery of an alien space craft and frozen alien by a team of Norwegian scientists in Anartica. They call in three more scientists one of whom is Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a palentology grad student. She and her compatriots arrive at the Norwegian base camp along with helicopter pilot Braxton Carter (Joel Edgerton) to study the frozen alien. Unfortunately for the 12 or so people on the base it doesn’t stay frozen very long.
The main idea behind The Thing (both films) is that this alien can make a perfect copy of any living creature. In the original film, which took place on an American outpost in Antartica, this lead to a horror movie more about trust, suspision and humanity than it was about blood and guts (though there was plenty of that too). As the men at the base slowly turned against each other and broke down the movie builds to a pitch perfect tension between horrifying monster effects and downright taught drama. The main ideas is still present in The Thing, but for one reason or another the filmmakers decided to ditch most of the taught drama and ramp up the monster movie aspects and it both works and disappoints.
It works becasue the monsters are actually pretty darn cool. The original film set a high bench mark, but the creature desings in this one are even more perturbing thanks to some great special effects and the help of digital effects. There’s just some really scary monsters in this film and it makes for a decent enough monster movie on the whole. The scares come from the cool creature desing for the most part and getting grossed out by a random tentical protruding from some poor saps midsection.
Unfortunately with the new focus on monsters and guts the cast starts to die off pretty quickly and thus the guessing game tension of the original film gets almost compltely lost. This culminates in an ending so ludicrous it reminded me a bit of the fourth Indinia Jones film, and we all know how the ended up. The problem is that while monsters are scary it isn’t what you expect from a movie with the namesake of The Thing. Tension, drama and suspsion can all be far scarier than a nasty looking alien, but the film seems to ignore this in favor of presenting really strange monsters killing people.
If you’re just tuning in for a monster film then The Thing is fine, but as a prequel to one of the greatest horror/suspense films ever it falls drastically short.