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The Thing – A smartly written horror prequel

The Thing - Theater Review
Release Date: 10/14/2011 - MPAA Rating: R
Clacker Rating: 3 Clacks

In an era of bad sequels and worse remakes, we've got a genuinely enjoyable horror prequel. And just in time for Halloween.

I tend to shy away from horror movies. Some of it comes from not liking to be scared, but it’s also because there are just so many crappy ones. For every well-done horror movie, there are at least a dozen lazy ones. And considering this is a prequel … I wasn’t very hopeful about this. But The Thing surprised me!

The movie was legitimately scary, using paranoia to amp up the tension. The pressure between the Norwegians and Americans (especially the language barrier) created even more anxiety in between alien attacks. In this way, the direction was effective. The special effects themselves were just alright. The monster effects didn’t necessarily look bad, but they weren’t anything extraordinary. I don’t see them aging well in the next few years — like the other few horror movies I actually enjoy, the less you see the monster clearly, the scarier it is. However, I did like how the alien moved and how it attacked. It was genuinely scary how fast it took down its victims.

The female characters are actually far above par compared to the average horror movie. For one, the movie passes the Bechdel test. The two women in the film (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Kim Bubbs respectively), have a quiet conversation in the middle of the night about how finding alien life will change them forever. It’s a poignant moment that builds a bond between the two scientists, and that connection comes back later in the film. Besides that, Winstead’s Kate is smart and resilient. Unlike most actresses trying to pull off serious scientist, I believe Kate. Some of that has to do with the script, which doesn’t suffocate the story with unrealistic pseudo-scientific terms. Another thing I love about Kate? They don’t oversexualize her and she gets to use a flamethrower. It’s just nice to see a movie with explosions that treats the female characters like people first … and then lets them actually fight the monster a little.

I also appreciate that there isn’t really a love story smushed in. Having the protagonist nab a bland love interest can be a crutch in horror movies, and The Thing avoids it. I would say I’d like to know what Kate’s relationship was to Eric Christian Olsen‘s character. Were they colleagues, former students together, just friends? I appreciate the light touch with exposition in the whole film, but that was something I was wondering during the whole movie.

There are aspects that don’t work as well. The antagonist is a head scientist who is the epitome of wormy greedy idiots. He makes the brilliant choice to take a sample of the alien immediately because you know, that doesn’t scream of hubris. When the alien inevitably escapes, he decides everyone should split up to look for it — horror cliche number one. This goes on for the whole film. I understand that something has to get the alien out of the ice and thus the horror story started, but he’s just such a big movie stereotype. It’s like Walter Peck had a European cousin.

Something else that took me out of the movie was how easily the characters would weather the elements. They’re in the Antarctic, but they have no problem spending time out doors after dark. Adding in the danger of leaving the buildings and possibly freezing to death could have been a great extra layer to the fear and desperation these people felt. On the other side of the coin, one of their main defenses against the alien is “Kill it with fire!”, and there were multiple scenes where a character was surrounded by fire in an unventilated room and didn’t even cough. Minor details? Maybe, but when a horror movie is actually effective, the little mistakes are even more bothersome. I also have questions about the alien being able to replicate clothing when it can’t replicate metal. Again, details.

I might not have been interested in seeing it on my own, but The Thing was clever, suspenseful and an honestly good prequel. I’ve talked to a couple fans of the 1982 film, and they’ve confirmed that the prequel works with it … there’s even a recreation of the opening scene in the final moments before the credits. At the same time, the movie is solid even if the other film didn’t exist. If you loved the 80s film, you’ll probably enjoy what the prequel adds. However, if you’re like me and are a Thing virgin, go see the new movie to get into the scary Halloween spirit. It stands on its own.


Photo Credit: Morgan Creek Productions

2 Responses to “The Thing – A smartly written horror prequel”

October 14, 2011 at 1:21 AM

I’d give it a slightly higher rating than you did, just because I am a fan of Carpenter’s 1982 film. I don’t know the answer to the question as to why the Thing can replicate clothing, but maybe it just has a problem with metallic elements (and I never stopped to really think about it until now!). The one area I have to disagree with you on is the look of the Thing in its various stages. Anyone who knows and loves Carpenter’s film and the work of Rob Bottin will appreciate the fact that director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and his effects team decided not to go CGI crazy and stuck with mostly physical effects to make this film tie in with Carpenter’s. The effects were very true to what you would have seen in 1982 with little CGI augmentation. I’m looking forward to the day someone decides to splice the two movies together into one seamless epic!

October 14, 2011 at 6:26 PM

I spoke to a Thing expert and he said the alien actually puts on a fresh set of the duplicated person’s clothing after disposing of the bloody ones. This is addressed in the ’82 version when it tries to frame Kurt Russell’s character by making it look like he has a stash of bloody clothing. So, it is in fact just duplicating the organic body and slipping into a fresh set of clothes (now I need to go back and see if when a person is duplicated, they’re wearing different clothing). Mystery solved! :-)

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