Tuesday, October 14, 2014

13 FOR HALLOWEEN #6: The Thing (2011)

There’s an awkwardness to Matthijs van Heijningen Jr’s ‘The Thing’ that is immediately discernible from its title, which suggests a remake of John Carpenter’s bona fide classic (in my humble opinion, still the greatest horror movie ever made), which is in itself a remake of Howard Hawks’s ‘The Thing from Another World’, and all of them to a greater or lesser degree inspired by John W Campbell Jr’s novella ‘Who Goes There?’ 

But ‘The Thing’ (2011 version) – hereinafter referred to as ‘TT11’ to prevent repetitive strain injury – is actually a prequel. Only it adheres very explicitly to Carpenter’s film … except when it retro-engineers itself to fill in the lacunae … only the lacunae are there in Carpenter’s film to provide a visceral undertone of irony. Let’s face it: the trip to the ruined Norwegian base gives us just enough clues to realise that what happened there is just about to kick off at the American base.

And therein lies the problem. If ‘The Thing’ is about how an assimilative alien being decimates a research station full of big hairy Americans, then a prequel must necessarily depict how an assimilative alien being decimates a research station full of big hairy Scandinavians in almost exactly the same manner. No, wait, backtrack a minute: a research station full of big hairy Scandinavians and one very attractive American.

‘TT11’ starts with palaeontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) recruited by prissy scientist Dr Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to fly out to the Norwegian base at a moment’s notice to give her professional opinion on something rather unclassifiable that they’ve just retrieved from the ice; and before you can say “obvious sop to US audiences” the winsome Ms Winstead is acting as a surrogate for the audience as her oddly-vowelled paymasters release the aforementioned alien being from its frosty hibernation and … well, you’ve seen the vastly superior Carpenter film, so you know the rest.

It’s astounding how obsessively ‘TT11’ clings to ‘The Thing’, right down to the big “let’s use a blood test to determine who’s infected” sequence. Granted, ‘TT11’ contrives a way to make the blood test not viable, and the alternative at least suggests a smidgin of originality, but the scene pays off so routinely that it squanders the opportunity to do something different and surprising with the material.

Perhaps the only truly interesting thing ‘TT11’ does is at the very end. With Kate posited as final girl from the outset, the film ends on a note that initially seems like just another sop to its predominantly homeland audience. Except that it communicates a single, devious implication that works its way into your consciousness a few minutes after the end credits have rolled. A decent touch, but too little too late. Ultimately, ‘TT11’ is reasonably well-made film, rich in attention to detail, that has no reason whatsoever to exist.

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