In an ocean of cinema, it is difficult to remain open to the idea of going to see a contemporary remake of a beloved film, especially when so many have come before — and been horrible disappointments. As a result, the general moviegoing public’s reception to the idea of remaking a movie as celebrated and iconic as The Thing was chilly at best. John Carpenter’s 1982 tense psychological thriller about a group of men in an Antarctic outpost attacked by an unknown entity that can take any shape it likes is simply un-remakable. Which is, it would seem, why they didn’t try that. The film is not a remake, but instead a prequel, which is the smartest decision they made. While there’s some unfortunate contemporary horror tropes that have made their way into the film, the overall effect and attention to the details of the first make The Thing (2011) a solid entry into the horror world.
When graduate student Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is approached by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to go to Antarctica on a mysterious specimen recovery mission, it is an opportunity too good to pass up. She arrives at the camp and quickly finds that the discovery may not be everything they had hoped for. Instead, it seems that the large group of Norwegians have uncovered something in the ice that could threaten mankind’s very existence. Teaming up with an American pilot named Braxton Carter (Joel Edgerton), she tries to prevent the thing from escaping to the outside world, but finds that the biggest threat is already inside the group.
There are two main ways to enjoy this film: to watch the original 1982 film within 24 hours of seeing this one or to have never seen it at all. If — for any reason — the viewer believes this to be a remake, then the experience will essentially be shattered. This film is intended to flow seamlessly into the original, and with that in mind, its attention to detail is astonishing. In the original, Kurt Russel and Richard Dysart briefly visit the camp at which this film takes place. Essentially, the script has been reverse-engineered from what they find there. While that sounds like a terrible way to write a script, it’s actually quite masterful. The characters are believable (even though this film has been turned into a “last girl” movie, which is the opposite of what Carpenter originally intended) and their actions never feel as though they are deliberately moving towards a specific outcome, which would be the danger of writing this way.
It is a little bit helpful that the majority of the cast is not comprised of big names and star power. It is easier to take people as they are when they haven’t already played iconic characters. The biggest casting conundrum, however, is Joel Edgerton. Edgerton is a stellar actor who is slowly creeping into American films, and has every right to. Unfortunately, he plays both a pilot and the voice of reason in this film, and looks an awful lot like Kurt Russel. This can not possibly be a mistake, and shows how unsure the filmmakers were of the choices they were making. Unfortunately, this uncertainty was what led to the movie’s biggest issue: it’s tone.
Relying on standard horror tropes and special effects, the film ends up feeling much more like Alien Vs Predator , than The Thing , which is the primary reason why this film will soon be forgotten, while Carpenter’s film will live on as a classic. At least there are more monsters in this film, even if it is missing Ennio Morricone’s brilliant, tense soundtrack.
(TFS gives a special shout out to Kim Bubbs, local girl who was cast in this film in a great role. Kim graduated from Ryerson Theatre School and has been doing great things ever since.)