Directed By: Matthijs van Heijningen
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen
Tag line: "In a place where there is nothing, they found something"
Trivia: The creature in this 2011 film was brought to life by way of a combination of practical effects and CGI
John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my all-time favorite horror films (my 3rd favorite, in fact, behind Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead), and it’s because of this that I approached its 2011 prequel, also titled The Thing, with trepidation. Would it do the previous movie justice, or was I in for a CGI-fueled monster flick that was heavy on special effects and light on everything else? Well, I’m happy to report that my initial fears were unfounded. Though far from great, this newest incarnation of The Thing is an action-packed thrill ride that most fans of the 1982 Carpenter classic will enjoy.
Deep in Antarctica, a team of Norwegian researchers makes the discovery of a lifetime: an alien spacecraft, trapped under the ice, which, according to estimates, has been there some 100,000 years. To learn a bit more about this monumental find, Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) and his assistant Adam (Eric Christian Olsen) invite American Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to have a look at it. Shuttled to the outpost aboard a helicopter piloted by Carter (Joel Edgerton) and his pal Derek (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, aka Mr. Eko in the hit TV series Lost), Kate arrives just in time to witness yet another historic find: a strange alien being, frozen in a block of ice, is discovered on the ship and promptly brought back to the base for further analysis.
Only this alien isn’t dead, as everyone learns later that evening when it bursts out of the ice and promptly disappears, hiding somewhere inside the building. What's more, it also has the power to transform itself into any living creature, which the group discovers when it tries to "absorb" their colleague, Henrik (Jo Adrian Haavind). After burning both the alien and Henrik with a flamethrower, Kate takes a blood sample from the creature and finds its cells are still alive! In fact, by this point, it’s had enough time to copy any one of the dozen or so people left at the base. To isolate the danger, Kate recommends a quarantine until they can figure out who is still human, and who isn’t. But while the group argues amongst itself to decide the best course of action, the alien continues to move, leaving the survivors to wonder who among them they can actually trust.
Clearly, director Matthijs van Heijningen is just as big a fan of Carpenter’s The Thing as I am, because he follows many of the same beats as that movie, from the creative way he brings its creature to life (using both CGI and practical effects to do so) to the tension its presence stirs up, causing friends and co-workers to turn on one another (with sometimes tragic results). He even comes up with his own version of the original’s “test scene” (one that’s much simpler than what we get in Carpenter’s film, but is effective nonetheless). The international cast does a fine job, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead leading the way as a scientist who realizes just how dangerous this monster will be if it escapes (fearing the creature is on-board, she attempts to wave down a helicopter that just took off, which leads to one of the movie’s best scenes). Prior to The Thing, I’d only seen Winstead in a handful of films, including Final Destination 3, the sub-par Black Christmas remake, the 2010 action / comedy Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and Tarantino’s Death Proof, one of the two films that make up 2007’s Grindhouse (she was Lee, the pretty but somewhat simple cheerleader in the movie’s final segment). Though certainly good in those films, she showed me a lot more with her performance in The Thing, playing both a shy scientist with a theory to a bad-ass warrior on the hunt (a la Ripley in the Alien series). While the monster is undoubtedly the focal point of 2011’s The Thing, Winstead’s impressive turn gives it a run for its money.
As I said at the beginning, this version of The Thing isn’t perfect. Along with some questionable CGI, the late sequence set aboard the centuries-old spaceship never really comes together as it should. Still, everything I mentioned above, in addition to a final scene that harkens back to the original, makes The Thing a surprisingly strong prequel to the 1982 masterpiece.