The Thing is a prequel, not a remake. The trailers indicated Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.‘s film was going to be nothing but a series of retreads, but it’s far from it. The commercial director managed to make a film he can actually call his own. Slightly old school and slightly modern, The Thing is a surprisingly fun horror film.
Although, to start with some bad news, it does take time to warm up to this prequel. One of its main problems is reminiscent of Predators – you’re watching characters wandering around spouting “What’s going on?”, when you already know exactly what’s going on. The build-up to the goods doesn’t take a great deal of time, but most of the set-up elicits that unexciting feeling of being 20 minutes ahead of your characters, especially for those who’ve seen Carpenter’s remake.
Once the chaos commences in the second act, that’s when the film begins to firmly take hold. There’s an all-hell-breaks-loose moment, where more than a couple of characters are killed off, and it’s the scene where the film begins to work. This bloody and standout scene comes after the expected “let’s see which one of us is still human!” experiment, another bit the filmmakers managed to put their own unique spin on. After that “oh, crap” moment, it’s all running and screaming from thereon out.
Heijningen and the script do a competent job at establishing the ensemble, so when one of the Outpost #30 members turn, one won’t confusingly ponder, “Wait, who’s this guy I don’t remember at all?” While the surprise moments and deaths rarely strive for anything outside of surface-level fun — as shown by a certain wasted cast member — the whole ensemble is not strictly treated as body bags in pending. Namely, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton make for strong screen presences who one would prefer not to see die painful deaths. Winstead’s non-love interest and non-glamorized scientist, Kate Lloyd, is no butch heroine or passive damsel in distress. Edgerton’s gruff American, Braxton Carter, never comes off as a Kurt Russell impersonation, and he really isn’t much of a hero.
The duo never commit egregiously stupid acts, and mostly do what any sane person would: run, immediately. There’s hardly any exposition about who these people are, and we’re just thrown right into their crappy situation. There’s none of the “I got a wife and kids waiting for me back home” spiels. The lack of exposition in characterization — and in general — is a welcomed surprise.
Ultimately, the one factor that will undoubtedly split viewers — well, mostly nerds — is the CGI. There was a fair amount of talk that this was going to be all old school when it came to the effects, and it doesn’t seem like the filmmakers stuck to their initial plan. The few practical effects that are present — which is whenever the creature is standing still — make the CG come off even worse. The only reason it doesn’t hinder the whole experience is because of the design work. In spite of the uncanny valley renderings, the stages the alien goes through are fantastic, slimy, and suitably disgusting. The transformations hardly resemble anything from the original.
Outside of that off-putting CGI and a flat first act, The Thing delivers in both expected and unexpected ways. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s prequel makes more wise decisions than questionable ones, and it comes close to being about on par with Zack Snyder‘s Dawn of the Dead remake.
The Upside: Joel Edgerton and Mary Elizabeth Winstead make silly CG-ridden situations believable, the second and third act move at a bullet pace, the alien design work is lovely, very little exposition.
The Downside: The first act doesn’t engage, the weak CG is a distraction, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje‘s manly machismo is criminally underused.
On The Side: Thank God there’s no trite speech about where the alien came from.