Cheap thrills swallow The Thing's originality

by Blake Campbell / Arts Columnist • October 31, 2011

, Beacon Correspondent

The horror genre has been relatively stagnant for the past few years. There has been a dearth of truly frightening and memorable horror films, with cheap thrills and cartoonish CGI effects taking precedence over atmosphere and terror. With such recent trash as emThe Roommate/em, emInsidious/em, and emA Nightmare on Elm Street/em, we’ve been inundated with clichéd teenage slasher flicks, motion-sickness-inducing mockumentaries, and unnecessary remakes, reboots, and prequels of horror classics. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s emThe Thing/em falls under the last category.

emThe Thing/em is a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter film of the same name (itself a remake of 1951’s emThe Thing from Another World/em). A research team discovers an alien spacecraft in Antarctica, along with its occupant, apparently dead. The scientists soon discover that the alien is alive and hostile, and what’s worse, it can copy the cells of its prey, taking on the appearance of any creature it consumes. Paranoia sets in as the creature infiltrates the hapless researchers and the scientists realize that they can trust no one.

Carpenter translated this concept into a terrifying film. The alien from the 1982 emThing/em is one of the most grotesque and frightening monsters ever portrayed on the silver screen, and the film effectively balanced convincing creature effects and gore with realistic psychological terror and suspense.

Unfortunately, the same is not true of Heijningen’s prequel, which brings nothing new to the table. In both films, we see paranoia take over as the researchers scramble to discover who’s human and who’s not, and while this was a crucial element of Carpenter’s film, it feels tired and worn-out in the prequel. Instead of expanding on the story and scares of the original, emThe Thing/em rehashes its best qualities into a mess of clichés. Like the 1982 classic, there are plenty of gruesome images and gross-out scenes, but they aren’t nearly as effective. The face-splitting, tentacles, guts, and severed limbs grow tiresome after the first hour or so, and the satisfying carnality of the 1982 film is lost in the gloss of CGI effects. And while the film does have a few scary scenes, it depends too much on cheap, predictable thrills (most which have been done more effectively in the original) to succeed as a truly frightening horror film.

Despite its overall mediocrity, however, emThe Thing/em has a strong protagonist. Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a compelling heroine with a take-charge personality and rationality in the face of danger. The writers wisely avoided any suggestion of romance between her and the film’s male lead, and Winstead’s convincing, understated performance keeps the character from becoming too much of a cliché. However, even Winstead’s character isn’t strong enough to keep the movie from being swallowed up by its own worn-out scares and cheap psychological thrills.

emThe Thing/em is not a terrible horror movie; there have been worse remakes, reboots, and prequels in the genre, and the film is at least superficially entertaining. While scary at parts, it’s forgettable and mediocre in comparison with the 1982 film. Stick with Carpenter’s film. Don’t let this unfortunate prequel downplay one of the scariest films in the history of horror for you.