Claiming to have taken his cues from both Christian Nyby/Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World (1951) and John Carpenter’s seminal 1982 re-imagining, debut director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. seemingly had high aspirations for his 2011 ‘prequel’ if he thought he could bring anything new to a story that had already been satisfyingly covered by two previous efforts. Not only has Van Heijningen Jr. failed in this regard, but has also produced one of the most stultifyingly pointless, insipid horrors of the year.
Van Heijningen Jr’s The Thing appears to be firmly set in the same universe as Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi masterpiece, exploring the horrifying events that occurred at the previously-glimpsed Norwegian camp. The film begins with the discovery of a vast extraterrestrial craft under the Antarctic ice, but it is only after a discovery of an unidentifiable, organic specimen (presumably belonging to the craft) that American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is brought in personally by the persuasive Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen – how far his star has fallen since his breathtaking turn as Christian in Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen ).
After an arduous helicopter flight to the remote research base, Lloyd settles into her new environs, notable for an almost invisible stand-off between US personnel and the Norwegian majority (this is never developed further, more’s the pity). Brought back to the outpost in a huge slab of ice, the bizarre alien specimen – all teeth and claws – is analysed and scrutinised before it inevitably escapes from its thawing prison. Thus begins a wild hunt for the life form, made all the more difficult when the group learn that it is capable of imitating any form of organic life – including human beings.
Winstead is an extremely unusual choice for the film’s heroic protagonist. Last seen as feisty love interest Ramona Flowers in Edgar Wright’s supremely inventive Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), her turn as Kate Lloyd is notably sexless and divertingly neutral.
This isn’t to say that female heroines need to be attractive or overtly sexual in order to be successful, but when compared with an iconic female action hero such as the Alien franchise’s Ellen Ripley, Lloyd’s complete absence of gender can be seen as a major flaw. When Ripley joins up with a group of knuckleheaded space marines in James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), there are fireworks. Yet when Lloyd is dropped off at the research base – the only woman these sex-deprived men will have seen in months – no one even batters an eyelid (including MacReady stand-in Sam Carter, played by Joel Edgerton).
However, this isn’t the only case of a fatal lack of logic within Van Heijningen Jr’s prequel. Out of necessity, Lloyd cleverly (or so she thinks) stumbles across a method of filtering out the humans from the ‘Things’. It is revealed that the creature is unable to recreate non-organic appendages (metal splints for broken limbs, fillings etc.), and those with fillings are quickly deemed as ‘safe’. However, what is completely ignored is that the alien life form appears perfectly adept at recreating the synthetic materials that make up the majority of all cold weather clothing, especially ski jackets. How this gaping plot-hole was missed is anyone’s guess.
Van Heijningen Jr’s The Thing is the cinematic equivalent of the cheap, tacky, knock-off toys that you can find in high street pound shops. The film shows little love or respect for its source material – particularly Carpenter’s 1982 classic – pilfering Ennio Morricone’s iconic electronic score (the rest of the sound design is similarly thoughtless, the sound of the ‘Thing’ proving unbearable after the first eardrum-shattering howl). Van Heijningen Jr’s The Thing is not only a pale imitation of the previous two incarnations, but also one of the worst films (horror or otherwise) released this year – avoid at all costs.