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"The Thing" Provides Good Horror But Doesn't Measure Up
In the never-ending unnecessary Hollywood rehashes of 80s horror films, “The Thing” gets a pass for at least billing itself as a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 classic. For those unfamiliar with that film, this latest incarnation of an alien being terrorizing scientists in Antarctica can be its own stand-alone horror film for modern audiences. Taking place place directly prior to the events portrayed in the 1982 version, “The Thing” finds Norwegian and American scientists stumbling upon a creature not of this world.
Taking place in 1982, three Norwegian scientists in a Snowcat vehicle become trapped in a glacial crack which leads down into the crash site of a large foreign ship. Barely surviving, they alert their outpost and come across the supposed surviver of the crash frozen in a block of ice. Back in America, Dr. Sander Halverson (Ulrich Thomsen) and his assistant Adam (Eric Christian Olsen) recruit paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to accompany them to the site to investigate. Estimating the creature to be trapped in ice for one hundred thousand years, they transport the block of ice back to their camp and believe they may have encountered the first-ever extraterrestrial being on Earth. Unfortunately, the creature was not entirely dead and escapes the block after several hours of gradual melting. While trying to escape, the creature attacks and consumes Henrik (Jo Adrian Haavind) while hiding under a building. The team traps the creature and burn it alive. During the autopsy, the scientists learn that the creature can replicate another living being’s cells and thus imitate its form, disguising itself as a human and thus attack unsuspecting victims.
What follows is a “who is human and who is not?” series of guessing games amongst the rest of them. In this cramped environment, tensions rise as everyone soon starts turning on one another, losing all trust in order to make it out alive. Unfortunately, here is when the film begins to do its own replication of Carpenter’s film. The themes of isolation and suspicion of others is repeated in the prequel but still holds its own ground as a horror movie. In an attempt not to compete with Kurt Russell’s stand-out performance in the original, Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen cast a young female lead and crafted the character after Ellen Ripley from the “Alien” franchise. Winstead does hold her own as one of the few English-speaking characters and proves to be a worthy adversary against the creature.
The one issue I was sort of disappointed with was a little over-use of CGI effects in this film. The make-up and special effects in Carpenter’s film was produced without the aid of a computer and to this day still hold up very well. Mentored by special effects legend Rick Baker, Rob Bottin created some of the most horrifying and cringe-inducing monster effects seen on screen in Carpenter’s film:
(Caution: the following clip is violent and may induce nightmares!)
In the prequel, much of those grotesque scenes are digitized and do not seem as authentic. As someone who appreciates make-up effects in horror films, CGI tends to take away some of the magic. Yet, that doesn’t mean it fails to scare audiences. Director Heijningen and his special effects team are able to create many scares within a terrifying atmosphere. Unfortunately, the third act of the film tends to fall apart and becomes its own victim of clichéd conclusions. However, it isn’t until the end credits start rolling that it becomes to have that John Carpenter vibe as it sets up the events of the 1982 film.
For fans of Carpenter’s masterpiece, you may want to sit this one out. Frankly, there isn’t too much revealed that you couldn’t have already assumed in your head as to the origin of the creature. However, as a stand-alone film this one of the slightly better incarnations of 80s horror. If you have not seen Carpenter’s film but interested in checking out the prequel, I suggest you go ahead and see it. It’s a good scare. But if you do, at least check out the original at some point. It is one of the few pre-CGI films that is both genuinely scary and suspenseful.