'The Thing' that should not be
There's a metaphor somewhere in Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.'s alien horror prequel/remake "The Thing" for modern Hollywood's incurable remake fever: a ravenous, chameleonic monstrosity that devours 80s near-classic movies whole and brazenly imitates their form to lure its victims into a dark and secluded room.
Presented as a prequel but unmistakably a remake, this new take on "The Thing" purports to chronicle the events leading up to John Carpenter's version but then weirdly slavishly follows the storyline of the much better 1982 movie—at times nearly scene for scene.
The new "The Thing" stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as an American paleontologist who secretly flies to Antarctica to aid a Norwegian team in the discovery of an ancient alien life form, crash-landed into the frozen continent some hundreds of thousands of years back. Cut from the ice and trucked back to base camp, it is only one ill-advised cold storage decision later that the creature is free and devouring Norwegians like heavily bearded candy, adopting their physical form and infiltrating the storm-secluded group to find a way off the frozen tundra to the civilized world.
It's a rich science fiction setup that sets the stage for a tense and paranoid claustrophobic thriller where you can't trust that the person right next to you isn't really The Thing in disguise, and it's wasted by the new movie's poorly written script, which barely gives you the characters' first name before its starts with the killing. When an unassuming geologist's assistant suddenly splits open to reveal a be-tentacled monster beneath, the collective viewer has absolutely no idea how or when this person could have been changed.
Part of the fun and tension of John Carpenter's version was collating all the little moments away from camera when someone could have been nabbed and replaced by the insidious otherworldly creature. A major part of the suspense of characters not knowing who they can trust is actually understanding who it is they're not supposed to trust. Heijningen's vapid "pre-make" fails to provide the bloody breadcrumb trail for its audience to follow, not to mention characters with enough depth and personality to really get us involved in the story.
This "The Thing" is full of jump-out scares and body-horror in its efforts to unsettle its audience, but the gloriously excessive and grotesque puppetry of John Carpenter's "The Thing" is replaced with clumsy and out-of-place CGI. It's a shame, especially as Carpenter's horrific aberrations of the human form still hold up today. The choice to go with a computer-generated creature was probably rooted in money, but it's one very heavy nail into this movie's already mostly sealed coffin.
I don't usually take issue with individual remakes. Hollywood's general reboot/sequel/franchise fever has got me in quite a rage at times, but I would have to ignore the often glaring similarities and outright copying between "original" Hollywood movies (especially within a genre) to cast a stone at any one given remake just for being what it is.
That being said, particular bad remakes threaten to tarnish the legacy of the original, and for nothing better than a cheap cash-in. Whether that is what the studios did with "The Thing" or it was the director's uninspired choice to simply make a flashier, hollow John Carpenter version, this was one reboot/prequel that did not need to be.
Allegedly, winter crew members at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antartica watch "The Thing" (along with "The Shining") after the last flight leaves the base. I would happily suggest they stick with the original. The original remake, anyway.