Rated R/130 Minutes
Remakes tend to be hit and mostly miss but when filmmakers re-do truly great horror films, they’re asking for trouble. Few cared when The Amityville Horror and When a Stranger Calls were given updates; since the originals were so bad, any improvements would be a step up. However, when Let The Right One In was turned into the neutered Let Me In last year, most horror fans didn’t bother to show up and gave the movie the verbal dirty lickings it deserved.
Now, someone at Universal Studios has decided to remake John Carpenter’s The Thing, which was itself a remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another World. Carpenter’s film is still frightening and should have been left alone. That said, this prequel (set days before and leading up to the opening moments of the previous film) is an adequate monster movie, though it in no way equals or surpasses Carpenter’s 1982 classic.
Kate Lloyd (Mary Elisabeth Winstead) is a seasoned scientist who is asked to join an expedition to Antarctica, where she will join a Norwegian crew in unearthing an alien spacecraft. The discovery and thawing of a frozen creature puts Kate in survival mode, as she not only fends off a hideous monster with a flame thrower but must decide which of the mostly male crew could possibly be the alien in disguise.
Everything here suffers from comparison with the earlier film. First time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. ably helms a demanding, f/x-heavy film but lacks any sense of style. The special effects, a mix of practical make-up and extensive CGI, provide some shocking and nauseating moments but in no way do they ever seem as real and life-like as Rob Bottin’s legendary creatures from the prior film.
Winstead unwisely chose to underplay her role, when a more intense, expressive performance would have made a bigger impression. In her first major starring role, she misses an opportunity to give a real break out turn, though everyone else in the cast is equally underwhelming. The characters in the Carpenter film also lacked real development, but the performances by veteran actors like Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley and Richard Masur were memorably powerful and emotionally charged. Here, the cast has the pedigree and performance level appropriate for a straight-to-DVD movie.
Though a prequel, it follows the structure of both previous Things pretty closely, with only the big climax offering welcome variety. Instead of remixing Carpenter’s The Thing, the grand finale branches out and borrows scenes from The X-Files: Fight the Future, Alien and From Beyond. The end credits sequence, which ties this movie together with Carpenter’s, is staged in such a mediocre way that it feels like a last-minute, tacked on attempt to appeal to the fanboy community.
I have a dear friend who works and lives in Antarctica for much of the year and he’s told me that the 1982 version of The Thing captures somewhat closely what it’s like out there. The reason Carpenter’s film remains the best of the three Things is that it conveyed human isolation, captured the lifestyle of a close knit group of men and made us care deeply when they had to decide which of them was taken over by a vicious imposter.
The question of how well do you know those closest to you never gels in the 2011 version, because we never care. It entertains on a superficial level, has impressive effects and some cheap scares but stands meekly in the shadow of a great and still petrifying horror movie.