What is it with scriptwriters? Don’t they actually think through their storylines and the logical consequences of story elements? ‘The Thing’ is a remake (though they call it a prequel) of the terrific 1982 John Carpenter film ‘The Thing’, which itself is a remake — or, better, reimagining — of the scary 1951 film ‘The Thing’ from Another World’.
Prequel or not, the latest version of this story is so rife with cinematic cliches that I think I could have safely walked out of the film halfway and still known exactly how things would proceed, who would die and what would give the alien away as the story progressed. Room full of rough Scandinavian researchers, check. Isolated Antarctica research station with an unknown threat and a big storm heading their way, check. Cute and ludicrously young American paleontologist flown “10,000 miles” without explanation to help figure out the curious find they’ve stumbled across, check.
There’s so much wrong with this film I don’t know where to begin. But I’ll start with Dr. Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who is one of the worst actors I’ve seen on the screen in a while. Whether she was supposed to be angry at being ignored by brusque, obviously nefarious Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), fearful when ‘The Thing’ literally rips a fellow scientist apart before her eyes or wistfully anxious her first night at the research station, she had the same expression throughout. Gak. Really, really poor acting, reminiscent of Kate Beckinsale’s ruinous acting in the stupid ‘Whiteout’. I know, I know, I should chill out, Winstead can’t be that bad. Trust me. She is.
Then there are plot holes, the greatest of which is the very concept of ‘The Thing’ in the first place. It can mimic human cells and take over people, looking and behaving exactly like them until it needs to erupt out – a la Alien – and become a bizarre tentacled creature. But its limitation is that it can’t replicate inorganic matter. Okay, then how does it manage to replicate clothes when it’s masquerading as a human? And why do the researchers just ignore the creature’s corpse after they’ve learned that its blood cells are still alive and busy duplicating other cells?
Then there’s the entire scientific side of things. Ostensibly Halvorson is more interested in the scientific glory of the discovery of alien life than anything else, but when the encasing ice is melting no-one notices? And when they determine that its blood is dangerous, they don’t initiate a clean room protocol, even after they assure each other “it’s like a virus” and that they need to “quarantine” the station? Oh, and apparently disabling Snowcats is harder than it looks, because when it becomes necessary in the story, they miraculously start right up again. And one more: pay attention to how Dr. Lloyd understands Norwegian in some scenes but not others. Google Translate, anyone?
Still, let’s be fair. It might be a trite, cliche cinematic trope, the closed environment with a killer amongst a small, rugged group of individuals, but it’s still an interesting foundation for a story. In that sense, I will grudgingly admit that ‘The Thing’ was sporadically good, even with banal dialog like “Is it still among us?” “Yes, it could be any of us!”
If you’re suspecting that I wasn’t too impressed, well, then you have a gift for understatement. If you want to see an exciting and claustrophobic film about an alien wreaking havoc at an isolated polar research station, go rent — or stream — the 1982 classic. Give this one a miss, though.