Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr.
In a world where all of us horror fans see announcements about our favorite films being remade almost on a daily basis now, it’s rather refreshing that Universal Studios went the prequel route for its upcoming flick The Thing, and while on paper it is most definitely a prequel, unfortunately a lot of the newest Thing movie ends up coming off feeling like it really aspired deep down to be a remake instead of something of a companion piece.
If you’ve seen John Carpenter’s 1982 version by the same name (and if you’re reading this site, then of course you have), you already know that it was at a Norwegian base that ‘the thing’ was first discovered and ultimately wiped out the population after the researchers unwittingly unleashed the parasitic creature into the world. In this flick we actually pick up with the Norwegians just a few days before they were annihilated as we meet several scientists at the beginning who mistakenly crash their snowmobile through an icy terrain that harbors not only an alien spaceship at the bottom but a frozen alien specimen nearby.
The Norwegians reach out for some assistance on their discovery from renowned researcher Dr. Sander Halvorson (Thomsen), who rounds up both his assistant, Adam Goldman (Olsen), and paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Winstead) to head up to the wintry and desolate tundra in order to assist in what could be the scientific find of the century.
Transported to the base camp by the US helicopter pilot team of Braxton Carter (Edgerton) and Derrick Jameson (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Kate and the team soon discover just how dangerous the creature lodged within the ice really is once it breaks free and starts absorbing and becoming its human prey, while those unaffected are none the wiser. And if you’ve seen the 1982 film, then you pretty much know how everything is going to shake out from there – things get bloody, blowtorch-related shenanigans ensue and soon enough it’s up to Kate and Braxton to stop the alien before it can escape.
But that’s not to say that the Thing prequel doesn’t try to give the story its own little twists and turns because it does. It’s just a case of the twists here not being enough to counterbalance the retreading of a lot of material from Carpenter’s own remake almost 30 years ago now, making The Thing a rather average experience for this writer, who would watch the Master of Horror’s version once a week if I could get away with it. And although I’m not really a reviewer who gets off on raining on someone’s parade, I will admit that The Thing prequel left me feeling kind of bummed out since I was hoping for something just a little more satisfying in the end. Doomed from the start or not, I don’t like when horror movies can’t deliver on the goods, and The Thing didn’t deliver anything new here.
And let’s be honest; is there a more thankless job in the industry than being a horror writer tasked to write remakes, prequels, reimaginings or whatever you want to call them? Probably not so I don’t necessarily fault writer Eric Heisserer completely for The Thing not being able to deliver a stellar prequel here – there are moments within the script where he does manage to work in some clever twists on the world we were introduced to in the ’82 The Thing, but overall he’s created a story that treads a little too closely to the events that transpired in the Kurt Russell flick.
As an effects geek, I found the practical creature work used in The Thing rather stunning (it’s nice to see a real creature feature hitting theaters for a change) and gleefully on the gooey and gross side. It’s just unfortunate that the film ends up relying too heavily on CGI toward the latter parts of the third act, killing any sort of authenticity it had mustered up. Look, we all know and get that practical creatures are expensive and whatnot, but so are visual effect shots; if you’ve already spent the money to create these amazing looking creatures, then why would you want to spend even more money on VFX shots that are going to muck up the look of those creatures? It just makes no sense; practical and visual effects should complement each other seamlessly, and that’s just not the case in The Thing, which is an absolute damned shame.
I know that as a woman I should be applauding the fact that Winstead is actually the film’s lead, but honestly, she’s rather distracting. I would not have had any issues with having another all-male cast again in The Thing as I always felt like that casting aspect really added something to the machismo that erupts in Carpenter’s movie right around the same time the paranoia is kicking in. But here there is always something off about Winstead’s character in particular. I’ve enjoyed the up-and-coming actress’ work in movies like Scott Pilgrim, Death Proof and Live Free or Die Hard, but here she comes off as a horribly miscast and rather bland heroine tasked with carrying an entire action-based horror movie on her shoulders.
The rest of the cast, though, was rather enjoyable, and it’s too bad we didn’t get to spend more time with them rather than Kate. In fact, what saves the movie from bring awful were the performances by Edgerton, Olsen, Thomsen and Akinnuoye-Agbaje as they all managed to keep me somewhat checked into The Thing as I was watching it. Truth be told, even though Winstead’s got top billing, the prequel was more Edgerton’s movie than hers, and the Australian actor is quickly becoming one of the breakout stars of this year.
For a movie that excelled at being average, the production design on The Thing is also rather incredible (the spaceship being the true money shot for you Carpenter geeks out there), and if there are any reasons to pay money to see this movie on the big screen, it would have to be for the creature effects and the production design. Both definitely elevated the experience and, along with the work turned in by cinematographer Michel Abramowicz, are strong enough reasons to head to the theatre if for nothing else than to witness the pure spectacle of it all with your very own eyes.
At the end of the day, The Thing is a rather average movie that does enjoy a few moments of greatness but ultimately leaves no lasting impression on you by the time the credits start rolling. From a nostalgic POV, it’s definitely enjoyable to go back and revisit Carpenter’s world within this separate storyline. But nostalgia can only get you so far so what this prequel ultimately ends up succeeding at is making you want to rush home to watch the ’82 version just as soon as you can.
The Thing is not a terrible movie, but it’s not a remarkable movie either, making it a somewhat underwhelming experience for longtime fans overall.
2 1/2 out of 5