Universal’s The Thing is a prequel to the 1982 cherished horror masterpiece by John Carpenter that carried the same name. We say that immediately so that there is no confusion: This is no remake, The Thing 2011 takes audiences back to the beginning of the horror that ransacked Kurt Russell’s world onscreen in 1982.
It is actually a quite fascinating premise. Norwegian scientists have discovered something frozen deep under the Arctic Circle. Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited to join them to add her scientific expertise to what the titular Thing may be. Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) is leading the expedition with one eye on making history and the other eye on protecting his interest in keeping the discovery a secret -- a combination that proves to set the horror of The Thing in motion. The supporting cast stands out too, especially Joel Edgerton and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as American helicopter pilots who do their best as the eyes and ears of the everyman watching the horror unfold from the comfort of the movie house seat.
Purists of the original Thing have said that there are too many similar situations and plot points to set this prequel apart from the original film. Yet, given the fact that the creature they discover is hell-bent on possessing and destroying any human it contacts, of course some of the scenes may feel congruent to the original. They share the same DNA. But, in our opinion, that is more an homage to the 1982 film than a replication. Also, given the context of the Carpenter film, wouldn’t the methodical destruction of the Arctic crew feel much as it did in Carpenter’s Thing? Well… absolutely.
First time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (check out our exclusive interview with Heijningen) weaves a web with his international cast that keeps audiences guessing as much as the characters onscreen are looking over their shoulder. They, and in turn we, are not sure who to trust in a group where there was once cohesion working towards a common goal. See, when The Thing takes over a human, that individual has no idea whether its physiology has been compromised. That uncertainty is what fuels the fear in the original The Thing and also in this prequel. It is that simmering feeling of all hell could break loose at any moment that grounds the audience in the same horror that charmed audiences in 1982. But in Heijningen Jr.’s film, when chaos does ensue as The Thing gets out of its icy tomb, it sets the film apart and makes it its own entity.
Winstead unleashes her inner Ripley of Alien fame. Her paleontologist finds her voice as a leader -- perhaps the only individual thinking clearly. She knows that if The Thing gets out of their camp where they are stranded, it has the potential to wipe out the human race. Winstead takes the opportunity to shine as the lead in the film and demands the audience’s attention in every scene. Where Russell was the voice of reason and the steady hand of leadership in the first film, Winstead serves the same role in the prequel. In that, she triumphs.
There are inconsistencies that can be picked apart, sure. The actual metamorphosis of The Thing into human form has one grave error. But in the tradition of cinematic suspension of disbelief, that fact can be overlooked for the most part in the larger picture of enjoying a good old fashioned horror movie that also makes you think. The Thing could be a metaphor for an epidemic as shown in Contagion. It conceivably serves too as a representation of what we fear in today’s world. The unknown is more often than not what creates horror deep in our own conscious and subconscious.
For Movie Fanatic, The Thing of 2011 is a gift wrapped salute to The Thing of 1982. That bow on the present is shown in the film’s final moments. We cannot give you the details without robbing the sense of immediacy in the film’s final frames. But, what we can say is it is as if we as viewers are running right into the beginning of Carpenter’s The Thing. If that is not a firm compliment, then we don’t know what is.