John Carpenter’s back catalogue has been pretty heavily raided. We’ve had remakes of The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13, and Halloween, while Escape from New York is often mooted for an update. So we were actually slightly encouraged when we heard that this latest would be a prequel rather than a remake. But could it actually offer anything new?
A Norwegian research team in Antarctica find an alien spacecraft below the ice with its inhabitant frozen solid some distance away. American expert Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) arrives to remove it from the ice but the creature is not only far from dead, it’s hostile and can replicate living tissue. Kate quickly realises that some of the team are not who they appear to be.
First of all, it’s important to emphasise that The Thing 2011 is not a total disaster. Director Matthjis van Heijningen Jr. and writer Eric Heisserer are clearly very concerned with matching this prequel to the Carpenter film that we all know and love. Because of this, there are enough nice little touches and nods to quell the knee-jerk rage of most of the hardcore fans. But it needed to deliver on the suspense and it needed to deliver on the effects. Does it?
Well, not really. There are enough impressively gooey effects to make The Thing fun for the gore-hounds, but there’s enough dodgy CGI to put a damper on things. While there are some impressive “What is that?” moments (an early kill and a rather unpleasant close encounter stand out), the film never really gets under your skin like the Carpenter version did, unleashing the splaying tendrils and screaming quickly instead.
There’s a big problem with the lack of tension. With a small group stranded in the middle of nowhere, paranoia and distrust need to be high. But it quickly becomes clear that the bulk of the cast are cannon fodder to be sped through as quickly as possible; with only the faces you recognise being used for “are they infected?” suspense.
The cast themselves are solid enough. Winstead (Scott Pilgrim) shows herself thoroughly capable of leading a film, Ulrich Thomsen (Season of the Witch) seems to channel Stellan Skarsgård in his attempt to generate audience loathing, and Joel Edgerton (Warrior) doesn’t exactly stretch himself as the American helicopter pilot. You might recognise Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost) or Eric Christian Olsen (Community) but there’s not exactly a wealth of character development.
It’s all fairly serviceable enough for the most part and things do threaten to get interesting in the second act with some good effects work and a decent riff on the blood-testing scene from the Carpenter version. It’s just a shame that the damp squib ending destroys a lot of that good will.
Mostly mindless fun. It doesn’t hold a candle to John Carpenter’s The Thing (was it ever going to?) but Winstead is solid, there are some nicely horrible sequences, and it gets the job done.