John Carpenter’s The Thing is a masterpiece of horror and suspense, perhaps only bettered by its contemporary in Ridley Scott’s Alien. The claustrophobic 1982 film was in fact based on John W. Campbell’s short story Who Goes There?, and was originally adapted by Howard Hawks in 1951 as The Thing From Another World. Carpenter’s film carved out its own niche in the well-worn genre of bodily invasion, but this latest adaptation/prequel to the classic sci-fi yarn from director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. is designed to directly recall its predecessor. They’ve even kept the title.
When an alien spacecraft is discovered in Antarctica, an international group of scientists including paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World), is called in to help extract the frozen life-form found near the wreckage. When the being comes to life, it is soon discovered that the thing has the ability to take the form of any of the team. As the group becomes increasingly paranoid and suspicious of everyone around them, it is up to Kate and the crew’s pilot, Carter (Joel Edgerton, Warrior), to identify and eradicate the thing before they are all killed…or worse.
It is difficult to avoid comparisons with John Carpenter’s classic, largely because the new version of The Thing is structured to lead us up to the start of the original film. Much of the suspense of that earlier film came from not knowing what happened to the Norwegian camp, short of the horrible and visceral images of impossibly twisted and charred remains of creatures that couldn’t possibly be entirely human. In essence, The Thing attempts to answer the question posed in the dialogue of John Carpenter’s The Thing: “My god, what the hell happened here?”. In doing so, it continues contemporary US cinema’s obsession with explaining everything. Yet Heijningen and Eric Heisserer’s (Final Destination 5) screenplay, free of the burden of having to make its own conclusion, fully exploits the freedom it’s been given to simply create some old-fashioned suspense in guessing who will be the next to fall.
Fuelled by Marco Beltrami’s score, borrowing notes from his hero Ennio Morricone’s original, there is genuine tension in the first two-thirds of the film. The great paranoia that sets in, and the splatter-injected fear that the claustrophobia of an isolated camp engenders, leads to some terrifying moments and things that go bump, squish and boom in the dark. Never mind that the majority of the crew don’t seem to care terribly that they are walking around inside a flaming inferno, we all get the sense that anybody and anything could quite literally make our new-found friends jump out of their skin at a moment’s notice. Here it is the most faithful to the original, tapping into the same dark fears of parasitic invasion we all unconsciously share.
Even if one were to remove the film’s connections with the original, The Thing would remain a entertaining schlock-fest. Indeed, it might even heighten its strengths. It is only in the film’s final stages, which emphasises the origins and otherworldly nature of the creature, that The Thing falters and flounders before finding its way to the foregone conclusion. We have an established end point, one that will be wholly familiar to fans of the original film, and it is with this that the creators of this prequel struggle the most. Loose ends like survivors are never wholly tied up, and the location of the climactic showdown is out of step with the rest of the film. Regardless, The Thing is a high-tension horror film that impresses with a creative use of a limited location and period setting, a terrific group of characters and genuine scares along the way.
The Thing is released on 13 October 2011 in Australia from Universal.