Here’s the Thing: the new Thing is nowhere near the Thing that is John Carpenter‘s The Thing, but it’s still quite a Thing in and of itself.
First of all, kudos to director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. for crafting a prequel to Carpenter’s film rather than a remake. In the age of endless horror “reboots,” it seems like simply a re-do of the tale of Antarctic terror would be a no-brainer, but the decision to do a prelude to JC’s Chapter One displays an unexpected integrity on the studio’s part. Let’s face it: prequels, while still cash-grabbers in and of themselves, are “classier” than remakes — even if this Thing still kind of plays more as the latter.
How could it not, though? If you have a story involving a small group of people in an isolated setting taking on an alien lifeform that has the spectacular (and often gruesome) ability to replicate its victims, there’s really only so much you can do in bringing your new spin on it. In some ways, The Thing is kind of a prisoner of its predecessor — it takes place in Antarctica and deals with the Norwegian scientists who first discover the creature because, well, that’s how Carpenter set up the story. In some ways — and, rather ironically — a remake might’ve allowed for a more “original” approach to the material; a different setting (a big city, perhaps?) and completely different characters (obnoxious college students, no doubt).
But, really — who wants to see that?
So here we are, back in the winter of 1982 in the coldest place on Earth. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, expanding on the spunk she displayed as Lucy McClane in Live Free or Die Hard, plays an American grad student called in to join a team of Norwegian scientists when they uncover a freaking spaceship with what looks like its lone passenger frozen in a block of ice. Despite the fact that they really, really shouldn’t, these fame-seekers drill into it to take a sample and the Thing is released unto the world, which prompts the familiar game of “Who is Who?” (which usually involves aiming a blowtorch at someone at yelling a lot) and a series of freaky gross-out creature effects as the monster proceeds to wipe out the entire camp (starting with the poor dog, who knew something was up from the start). Heijningen Jr. does a pretty decent job maintaining the suspense and tension throughout all of this, even though the premise is certainly a familiar one.
Winstead is cute and fiery but doesn’t quite deliver the alpha female Ripley heroics that the film could’ve used, and the members of the Norwegian team might as well be named “Guy Who Will Soon Be Dead 1-12” as they’re barely distinguishable from each other — a far cry from Carpenter’s rough and tumble team members who each had their own distinct personalities that the Thing had to attempt to imitate as well as their physical appearances. But where the film really soars is in the special effects, an elegant (or is that grotesque?) blend of practical effects and CGI that gives homage to Rob Bottin’s still-stunning work from 29 years ago as it goes even further into the realm of bizarre gruesomeness — there are many memorable freakazoid images in the new Thing, most of which will send shivers down your spine and churn your stomach a bit. And then there are some that will have you laughing out loud at how completely insane they are (especially during the last act, when the flick almost completely loses its mind).
So, if you’re a fan of the original Thing (and what self-respecting horror aficionado isn’t?), you’ll find plenty of gooey, gross-out delights in this more than capable prequel. It’s no classic (nor, really, is it trying to be one), but it’s definitely a more impressive beast than you may have been expecting. Never let it be said that this ain’t no Thing, ’cause it’s often quite some Thing to behold.