Horror movies are by far the worst offenders when it comes to the pop-culture plagues of remake-itis, sequel-itis, and its awkward cousin, prequel-itis. How many Saws, Resident Evils, and increasingly inappropriately named Final Destinations do we really need? It’s pretty remarkable, then, that it’s taken almost 30 years for anyone to attempt an expansion of the world created in John Carpenter’s The Thing (itself a loose remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another World), especially since Carpenter’s other seminal horror flick, Halloween, has certainly had its share of blatant cash-ins and nostalgic reinventions.
Thankfully, this prequel from first-time feature director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. is no haphazard cash grab. (Sadly, it’s not titled The Thing Before the Thing.) From the opening strains of Ennio Morricone’s synthesized heartbeat from the original’s score, to the short closing scene interspersed with the credits, this film is an unabashed love letter to what came before, leaving no true fan unserved. (It even uses the same font.) But does it stand up as an original piece of entertainment? Well, that’s the thing about The Thing. But more on that later.
The film takes place at a Norwegian scientific outpost in Antarctica, where an investigation into an unusual radio signal accidentally leads to the discovery of a mammoth UFO that crashed and was buried under the ice for tens of thousands of years. But even more remarkable is the survivor of that crash who is found completely frozen a short distance away. Enter Dr. Sander Halversen (Ulrich Thomsen), paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and their small American crew, who have been summoned to the base in order to help excavate and study the alien. Of course, said alien escapes, and a fun time is had by all.
Aside from the rock-solid, often-copied premise of isolation combined with who-can-you-trust paranoia, one of the greatest aspects that distinguished the original was the nightmarish design of the alien in all its forms, and the film stays true to its roots here, as well. More so than any other creature devised, there’s a certain wrongness to all the writhing tentacles and body parts that jut out wherever the hell they feel like that is still effective today. In Carpenter’s time, there were no computers to do your work for you, so all the FX had a tactile sensation to them that modern CGI has yet to match, but this Thing does a very good job masking the digital seams.
If it feels like there’s too much talk comparing it to the original, there’s a reason. It’s very hard to separate the film from its context. This Thing is so spiritually and structurally identical that it’s hard to escape the feeling of retread. It’s only toward the final act that it branches out into newer territory. As a result, those who haven’t seen the original will likely enjoy this more. That said, van Heijningen basically knocks this out of the park. With a cast that also includes Lost’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and, for extra geek points, the Star Wars prequels’ Joel Edgerton, prepare for a fun, scary ride.