John Carpenter's The Thing, released in 1982 was a commercial flop, but has slowly created a niche for itself as a cult classic. As part of the body shock craze of the 1980s it told the story of a group of scientists, trapped in Antarctica while an alien organism slowly kills them having taken guise as a normal human. This allowed for suspense, tension and buckets of claustrophobia as the crew slowly turned on each other. 2011 saw the release of the prequel to the original The Thing, based loosely on a short story by Carpenter himself.
Set in the weeks leading up to the original The Thing, we are slowly introduced to paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who is approached to come and investigate a 'structure' in Antarctica. On route she meets pilot Carter (Joel Edgerton) and they are shown an alien spacecraft buried in the ice and she is asked by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to excavate the site and the corpse of a creature found near. The creature is not as dead as it first seems and slowly and surely attacks the investigative team.
The film-makers were obviously big fans of the original The Thing, because there is some rather nice touches and nods to it. We find out how the axe got stuck and where the two-headed creature came from, however this homage-paying is taken a little too far. We have Edgerton's Carter, who is a pale imitation McReady, even down to beard and jacket combination. Luckily he proves more than up for the task and gives a decent turn in what could've been a really bad role for an actor of less skill. Thomsen's mad professor is entertaining too, even though it's painfully obvious were his character arc will lead him. Winstead is passable as the lead protagonist Lloyd, but there's a sense that everything in The Thing has been done before. This is probably because it has been.
Aside from the stupidity of naming a prequel exactly the same as the original, The Thing (2011) is just a little too similar. There's a dog in a kennel, there's a reasonably tense scene where they crudely test to see if anyone is the Thing in question, even the transformations are carbon copies, although the CG does not have the same effect as the gruesome, tangible effects of the original. It's like somebody has watched The Thing and said "I can do that" and gone about making an approximation of a remake, but called it a prequel. It's a shame that almost no time is spent investigating the creature and we're left knowing very little more than we knew before going.
The Thing ticks all the boxes but does it without the true chills of John Carpenter's original. Gone are the truly terrifying and creepy animatronics, replaced with a disappointing CG-hybrid that just doesn't feel as visceral or engaging. The number of people at the station has increased resulting in a lack of depth in their character development. The film-makers clearly were hoping to rely on them being copies of the original films and so little time was needed actually making the audience care. There are some tense scenes, Edgerton is good and the tie-in at the end to the beginning of the original is a neat touch. Unfortunately there was a real opportunity to make something new and exciting, but The Thing feels more like a by-the-numbers slasher that we've all seen done better before.
Rating: * * 1/2
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