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The Thing Is Typical Awful Modern Horror

The Thing
Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Written by Eric Heisserer from the short story Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.
Universal, 2011

It’s not hard to start thinking about Ridley Scott’s Alien or James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens, whenever a group of people go somewhere remote to go see about an alien.  And what immediately comes into focus from movies that fail miserably to emulate those films is the lack of character, from the least important person in the crew all the way to the alien itself.  When we don’t care who dies, and we don’t even get the satisfaction of a cool monster (and man, does this movie ever try to make this alien seem cool), well, that’s your everyday bad horror movie.

This is set as a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, which in itself was the second attempt to adapt John W. Campbell’s short story Who Goes There? into a film and became a cult classic.   This also-titled The Thing has a scientist named Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) going on a trip to Antarctica to unearth something frozen in a remote site.  Along for the ride are Adam Goodman (Eric Christian Olsen) and his obsessed boss, the “Paul Reiser” of the mission, Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen).  Then there are two helicopter pilots, Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and our male lead, Braxton Carter (Warrior’s Joel Edgerton).  They will join a large group of Norwegian drillers to delve into the unknown.

We find out that there’s a huge spaceship and a creature buried under ice.  They extract the creature, hoping at some point to be able to whisk it away for study.  But before any of that craziness can occur, the creature busts out of the ice and starts the arduous task of hiding and attacking, like aliens do.  The twist, as Kate finds out, is that the alien can replicate human cells, so at some point the humans walking around can’t be trusted, because at any time one of them could bust out some alien moves and approach with angry teeth.  Luckily, there are copious amounts of flamethrowers around.

The problem is, this alien…I’m not entirely sure what it’s supposed to be.  Not physically, but what it wants.  If it’s a scared animal just trying to survive, then I don’t understand its need to attack in random horror-movie fashion.  If it’s a scary stalker-alien who just wants blood, I don’t understand why it would need to replicate human beings and be a sneaky bastard about showing itself and commencing with the killing.  Maybe it starts wisely getting scared of flamethrowers, but whenever flamethrowers aren’t around, and you have those teeth, you should attack these worthless humans with all your might.

There is one scene that is kind of cool but is pretty much eradicated by its worthlessness, when the alien marries itself to the head of another human and becomes the literal two-headed monster.  Other than to be creepy, I’m not sure what two human heads offer in the field of alien-style killing.  It’s cumbersome to be walking around like murderous Siamese twins, but hey, if it’s scary it doesn’t need to make any sense.  I’d understand if this was some sort of flaw in the genetic adaptation of the creature, kind of like how the T-1000 started to malfunction in Terminator 2, but this alien wanted to do this.

Writer Eric Heisserer has the unfortunate resume that includes the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street and this year’s Final Destination 5, and this is the first feature film from Heijningen.  In the end, there’s not much to care about in The Thing and it just isn’t very good.   During the end credits, it does serve as a prologue to the John Carpenter film, so if you ever wanted to see a setup for that, that’s kind of cool.  It even has Carpenter’s music, or at least a reasonable facsimile.

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