Director – Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Cast – Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Paul Braunstein, Trond Espen Seim, Kim Bubbs, Jørgen Langhelle, Jan Gunnar Røise, Stig Henrik Hoff, Kristofer Hivju, Jo Adrian Haavind, Carsten Bjørnlund, Jonathan Walker
Release Year – 2011
Reviewed by John of the Dead
When word first hit that this take on the very famed John Carpenter masterpiece was in the works I was not the least bit surprised, but was in fact bothered more than the remakes of Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Why? Because I got why the remakes of such fun horror classics occurred, but John Carpenter’s The Thing has been held in higher regard (as far as being remade goes) by myself due to it being such a technical masterpiece and one of my top 5 favorite horror films of all time. Now, when I eventually learned (as more information leaked out) that this was in fact going to be a prequel and not a remake, I was a bit relieved and somewhat welcome this unoriginal tactic due to my curiosity in whether or not these Hollywood jerks could really pull this off. Nonetheless I went into this piece expecting to be let down overall, but not expecting a bad watch given the trailers looked fair, but what I never saw coming was just how much I actually enjoyed this piece.
After coming across a discovery that will shake the world, famed Norwegian scientist Dr. Halverson(Ulrich Thomsen; The Broken, Season of the Witch) enlists the help of paleontologist Kate Lloyd(Mary Elizabeth Winstead; Final Destination 3, Black Christmas remake, Death Proof) to assist him in the barren and frozen landscape of Antarctica where he has come across a downed spaceship deep beneath the snow as well as its lone passenger. The scientists manage to dig up the alien and transport it back to their base, but when they learn the creature is far from dead they find themselves in a fight for their lives, with nowhere to run, against a life force with capabilities beyond our world.
I love the plot we were given in Carpenter’s The Thing, and while I did not want it messed with I did find myself enjoying this one as well because it involved everything that I loved about the original idea – a scientific discovery, an alien life form, nowhere to run, social breakdown, and overall…lots of chaos. In a sense, this is pretty much the same storyline as in the original effort, just taking place at the Norwegian base instead of the American base that was eventually infiltrated by the alien via a dog. After the credits began to roll I heard a nearby theatergoer say “That’s the same thing as the original movie, it’s not a prequel”, which is not true, but I do get their point – the stories are virtually the same.
We are thankfully given a few unique elements in this piece that were not present in the original, which included more background information on the scientists as this story does not start with our characters already at the base but during the recruitment phase as Dr. Halvorson tries to bring the best and most trustworthy minds with him to the base. We get to see more of the alien ship, both at the beginning and end of the film (which I enjoyed), and the alien itself was enjoyable as well. There is plenty of alien action to go around, which was my utmost concern going into the film as I was not sure how much alien carnage we would be given, but thankfully writer Eric Heisserer included great mayhem that payed homage to much of the classic alien action we were given in Carpenter’s version. There were many scenes of the alien contorting itself to become even more heinous than it already was, and to those it managed to capture it put them through levels of Hell that were unimaginable in the pain delivered to the victim. Of course this alien is able to transform into an exact replication of the host’s body, and once our protagonists learn of this the social breakdown occurs as they do not know who is human and who is not, but Heisserer brought in a clever idea regarding how these scientists managed to test one’s allegiance to mankind. Much like the blood test in Carpenter’s version, we are given a different litmus test for who is human and who is not, however despite its creativity it does come with a few flaws that do not allow them to properly test everyone on the base, which I did not see as a flaw as a viewer given it only upped the ante of never knowing who is human or not. The character play was good and Heisserer gave us enjoyable characters that each played their role very well, with none of them in the film merely to take up space. Some were meant merely to die a gruesome death, others to provide character conflict, and with numerous character thrown into this mix (along with lots of creature action) I never found this experience the least bit boring and in fact, very engaging to say the least.
Want to know what else really surprised me about this prequel, first-time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., a name that I am very glad I get to type instead of pronouncing out loud. From the trailers I could tell that his atmosphere was dead on and his cinematography crisp, but what really surprised me aside from his overall execution was the most important element there is: his execution of the horror. From the get-go we are thrown into the dark and gloomy atmosphere very much reminiscent of the barren winter-wasteland our protagonists find themselves in, and once they bring the creature back for study it is nothing but non-stop horror from then on out. Heijningen’s visuals are awesome and he managed to give us incredible usage of the large alien spaceship, something that we were not given very much of during Carpenter’s version. His using of the “thing” was great, and it provided much tension due to just how damn awesome it looked. The alien constantly changed forms, going from heinous beast to even uglier beast at times, and putting its victims through hell as it latched on to them and quickly replicated them in every biological fashion only to eventually transform back into the uglier being that it is. The look/design of the creature was amazing, and the only thing that really held this film back was the one element that always holds most modern day horror films back: CGI. The biggest reason behind the technical marvel that is John Carpenter’s The Thing is that he did so many amazing things with live-action FX. The same cannot be said about this prequel as most of the truly haunting and most awesome creature sequences were given to us in CGI fashion. In all fairness I was quite impressed with the quality of this CGI and those CGI scenes were still scary enough, but had they been given to us in live-action fashion they would have carried a much heavier punch. Thankfully we do get a fair amount of live-action FX, although they consisted mostly of close-up and slower shots of the creature, making for about half of the FX in the film. Had we been given about 70% live-action carnage, which the film could have accomplished, and the other 30% CGI for the scenes that be impossible to film live-action then this really would have been a fantastic watch close to the quality of Carpenter’s film. The CGI usage is the only real fault in the film, and Heijningen managed to close out all every other element of this experience in a positive way. The character performances were good, the fear and paranoia felt real, and his execution of the horror they experienced was top-notch, showing that this first-time filmmaker has potential to deliver more good to the genre in the future.
Overall, The Thing (prequel) is a film that I found surprisingly enjoyable thanks to good direction and positive writing from two filmmakers who have shown they have a knack to do good things in the horror genre. The storyline follows the same template as Carpenter’s classic, but manages to throw in enough unique elements to come off as its own film, and in fact a prequel, which thanks to good writing execution never once bored me or had me uninterested in what was going on. The horror provided is great and we get lots of creature action sure to please those seeking it, and in the end The Thing (prequel) is not only the year’s biggest surprise in the genre, but one of my most enjoyed thus far.