The Thing About “The Thing”

The explosive prequel to John Carpenter’s classic is action-packed but lacks substance

Martina Marosi

 

Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.

Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen

Rated: R

Showing: Area theaters

Before Kurt Russell connoisseurs get their âÄúthe original was betterâÄù panties all up in a bunch, Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.âÄôs âÄúThe ThingâÄù is no remake, though it may seem like it.

Screenwriter Eric Heisserer, responsible for âÄúFinal Destination 5âÄù and a 2011 remake of âÄúA Nightmare on Elm Street,âÄù is no stranger to derivative work, and his lack of imagination is clear in moments of back-patting references to the original.

The world wasnâÄôt exactly crying out for a companion piece to John CarpenterâÄôs original 1982 film of the same name, and van HeijningenâÄôs work marks itself as yet another revival of a work that was already successful in its heyday. After all, âÄúThe ThingâÄù from 1982 has plenty of creative, Paul Verhoeven-worthy gore, a haunting Ennio Morricone musical score and more Wilford Brimley.

But âÄúThe ThingâÄù of today need not be cast into the cold. Along with adapting the tale for a modern-day audience, it faithfully reconstructs the set of the Norwegian base camp seen decimated and abandoned in the original storyline âÄî occasionally in a cloying manner.

The prequel structures its narrative around clues left in the 1982 film, though it can easily be enjoyed by an audience unfamiliar with the original. When a team of Antarctica-based Norwegian and American researchers stumbles upon the body of an alien, frozen in a block of ice more than 100,000 years old, they immediately transport the curiosity back to their headquarters.

After a tense, engrossing scene in which the team intently watches as one of their colleagues slowly penetrates the block of ice with a drill, we can feel the story crack open just like PandoraâÄôs box. Of course, the researchers treat themselves to a premature celebration of their discovery, and warnings sounded by the prim Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), go unheeded.

Unfortunately, once the thing in question quite literally explodes out its icy tomb, the movie essentially becomes a matter of separating characters and watching them drop like flies. But when the creature can perfectly mimic its victims, it isnâÄôt simply âÄúAliensâÄù on ice.

Van Heijningen takes the opportunity to play around with the possibilities presented by a morphing extraterrestrial and turns it into a night at the wax museum.

Faces are at the end of endless, slime-covered vertebrae. Sinewy, shredded shoulders give way to eight arms. The denouement of the film starts as soon as the beginning ends, and the images of the film descend into a contest for gruesome deaths and twisted presentations of the human body abstracted.

In all, overbearing shrieks, roars, and gaping, toothed vaginas distract from its intended ambiguity and our fleeting ability to identify it. When itâÄôs not screaming in our faces, âÄúThe ThingâÄù takes on the tenor of a psychological thriller; perhaps the enemy is in fact us.

At its core, âÄúThe ThingâÄù is a tale of a group of people who destroy themselves in search of an enemy. Trust is eroded and loyalties are subverted when everyone searches for the thing in each otherâÄôs eyes âÄî and, at one point, teeth âÄî for it mimics that which it destroys.

Considering its roots, âÄúThe ThingâÄù has an awfully ironic way of communicating what happens when we dig up the past.