Title: The Thing
Directed By: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Paul Braunstein, Trond Espen Seim, Kim Bubbs, Kristofer Hivju, Stig Henrik Hoff
When you’re trying to live up to the standards, or perhaps exceed those set by John Carpenter’s The Thing, you’ve got your work cut out for you. While Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s version offers a nice thrill, it doesn’t come close to, well, replicating the elements that made Carpenter’s piece iconic.
It’s 1982 in Antarctica. A team of Norwegian scientists travel across the snowy tundra trying to track a mysterious signal. Upon pinpointing the position of the transmission, their vehicle plummets into a massive abyss and the group uncovers something out of this world.
In comes Dr. Sander Halversen (Ulrich Thomsen). With his trusty assistant, Adam (Eric Christian Olsen), and a newly recruited paleontologist, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), by his side, he travels to the location to examine the specimen, some sort of creature encased in the ice. With the help of the on-site Norwegian scientists, they dig it up and bring it back to the campsite where Sander takes a tissue sample confirming they have indeed made a monumental discovery. While the group celebrates their newfound fame, the ice thaws and the creature escapes.
The Thing begins in true horror movie form, with a rather compelling opening sequence. The first few minutes are a slow burn, but the Norwegians are likable enough to hold your attention so when the ice cracks, you’ll never see it coming. From there we move to our lead, Kate. Winstead manages to make an instant connection via an introductory scene with zero character development beyond the nature of her work, something the rest of the cast fails to do.
The Thing isn’t a film about people; it’s a movie about a situation and Kate, Adam, Sander and everyone else involved are merely playing pieces being shuffled around the board. Once the thing gets out, staying true to genre formula, the humans are hunted down one-by-one and while you don’t really care about the people losing their lives, there’s enough suspense, innovation and forward motion to keep you totally engaged.
The special effects are generally on point. The film is packed with fire, an element that really pops both off the snowy terrain and the shadows of the campsite sans power. As for the thing itself, the detail is absolutely incredible, maintaining a noteworthy amount of the character it consumed while in monster form. Most of the time, it’s chill inducing and almost tough to watch while the thing slowly mutilates the cast, however, the fact that it does retain so much of its victims can come across as a bit laughable. The sole female Norwegian is revealed to be infected via the monster tearing open her chest. Perhaps that wasn’t the most appropriate way for her to bite it. Also, when human faces are seemingly floating on the thing, it’s a little tough to take seriously.
Then, of course, the lack of character development is something that gravely knocks the value of the piece. Kudos to Winstead for working with what she got, which was very little beyond the fact that she’s a paleontologist. There’s really no incentive for her to join Sander’s team and her steadfastness to completely obliterate the monster isn’t quite justified, but Winstead has no trouble getting you on Kate’s side and keeping you rooting for her all the way through. Joel Edgerton snags a little bit of the spotlight as a pilot, Carter, but that primarily comes from his connection to Kate and the hope that he’ll be around to help her.
A few of the Norwegians are quite fun to watch as they’re less cut and dry and even infuse the film with a little humor. Sadly, Olsen is wasted as Adam. At first it’s nice to see the famously comedic actor play the straight man, but his role really goes nowhere. Thomsen makes for a fine all-business kind of guy, desperate to preserve this claim to fame, but the role is incredibly one-dimensional, exactly what you’d expect from a work-obsessed lead scientist.
The Thing is far from perfect and comes nowhere close to the caliber or Carpenter’s 1982 version, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an exciting way to spend an hour and 40 minutes. It’s visually stimulating, quite creepy and well paced. Looking for a little something to get your heart pumping? The Thing can handle it.