The Thing

19 Nov

Title: The Thing
Year: 2011
Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Writer: Eric Heisserer, based on the short story by John W. Campbell Jr.
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Eric Christian Olsen
MPAA Rating: R, strong creature violence and gore, disturbing images, and language
Runtime: 103 min
Major Awards: –
IMDb Rating: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 33%


John Carpenter’s The Thing from 1982 is an absolutely amazing film, a true classic of the genre and the era of film-making from one of the masters of horror. That film in turn was in turn a remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another World, though Mr. Carpenter’s version was more faithful to the John W. Campbell Jr. novella that inspired both films. And so, as if by clockwork, another thirty years have passed between films, and we get a third iteration of that source material, this time by Dutch filmmaker Matthjis van Heijningen Jr.

This film acts as a sort of prequel to Mr. Carpenter’s film, a prelude that works its way right up to the point in which the events of that classic film started. And while this one has its good parts, the lead performance by the gorgeous Mary Elizabeth Winstead chief amongst them, it just never once rises up to the heights so supremely set by the 1982 film, offering up just some really dull scares and never really hitting its stride. It’s as though the film itself was the titular creature that was trying to become and imitate the behavior of the original, with the difference being that unlike the alien creature, it’s easy to tell which is the fake one here.

Yes, in case you didn’t know that’s the sort of creature we deal with in The Thing, one that can make itself into the exact same form and imitate the exact same behavior of another living organism. The thing itself is this really horrible monster, and to be honest it’s not really all that scary to watch here, I mean it looks disgusting, that’s for sure, but this film shows it to us way too soon into its running time and way too often, unlike the original which did a really good job at building up the tension regarding the monster itself to make it reach a really good and scary moment of reveal. Just think about how many times you saw the titular creature in Alien, the less you see the more scared you get.

But even though its build-up of the scary creature wasn’t terribly effective, this one does have its strengths, the first act for example I thought was really well done, cleverly spending its first half-hour or so introducing us to its components and setting its pieces nicely into place. The paleontologist Ms. Winstead plays here has been enlisted to join a research time in Antarctica who have been breaking ground in the study and discovery of UFOs in their frozen territory. Which is, of course, how the titular creature comes into play in this whole story, as the scientists discover a spacecraft buried in the ice and a frozen body lying therein.

Mr. van Heijningen proves he has talent with this film, his debut feature, there’s stuff that’s off, certainly, but he shows a careful eye and gives us a very tight first film in which he seemed to be in control of all of his assets. Of course the tightness of his film is helped by the fact that it’s all set in a really confined environment, the research station in which a group of scientists start developing a weird sense of paranoia. A paranoia you would develop too if there was a creature out there disguising itself as people you know, and you not being sure as to who’s real and who isn’t. It’s a pretty kickass story, that’s why it’s still being remade to this day.

Plus through all of the film’s faults there was still Ms. Winstead there to make it all more than watchable. She’s really good here, she brings a seriousness to her character that suits her well, but at the same time she brings that deadpan delivery that we saw in such awesome display in last year’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (which I gave an A+ to and ranked as the eighth best film of 2010), and that makes her also bring a lightness and fun to the dense stuff. Not to mention she looks pretty damn hot using a flamethrower.

I liked this film, I mean it has a really terrific up-and-coming actress in Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and in Joel Edgerton an actor who’s also bound to break huge in the next few years, and they’re really talented people to have in a horror/sci-fi film like this. Not to mention that it has a lot of really neat and surprising gory moments that work quite well, and a lot of that aforementioned flamethrower action with Ms. Winstead doing the honors, there’s no way you can’t not like that.

So even if this iteration of The Thing doesn’t hold a candle to the John Carpenter version, I would advice you to go watch it. Yes, the fact that it shows us so much of the creature I thought was a big letdown, because even if there’s the technology needed to make it look really creepy that didn’t exist back in the early eighties, what really scares you is what you don’t see, what your imagination does with the unknown. But still, this one at least fills some gaps and answers some questions about the seminal eighties film, so if only for that it’s worth your time.

Grade: B-


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