Complete A-Z list

Thing, The


Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnoye-Agbaje, Paul Braunstein

Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr

One of Hollywood’s major inspirations is the sequel. Another, the remake. Both offer a chance of a box-office bonanza with a better chance of making the millions the Film Factory needs to keep going and even, rather too infrequently, to finance unique movies unlikely to achieve blockbuster status.

The Thing, based on John W Campbell Jr’s short story ‘Who Goes There?’ which dates from ‘Astounding Stories' in 1936, first emerged on screen in 1951 as the science fiction shocker ‘The Thing From Another World’ which achieved cult status because, although Christian Nyby II is the credited director, auteur cultists like to claim the film for its producer Howard Hawks.

John Carpenter revived the story in 1983 with full-frontal gore, guts and general gruesomeness. And now Universal has revived it yet again.

Purists will no doubt purse their lips. It’s unlikely to achieve cult status, either as a movie or as an example of auteurist moviemaking.

However contemporary horror/science fiction fans should be suitably satisfied by the efficient blend of shocks, special effects, suspense marauding monsters and general goriness conjured up by writer Eric Heisserer and debuting Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.

Unsurprisingly, the alien(s) are most memorable – a collection of shape shifting, shuffling, gelatinous, multi-legged creatures, armed with skewering tentacles and, memorably, a grisly confection with two human heads melted together as the extraterrestrial makes good use of ingested human cells and organs.

Heijningen opens his film with impressive Antarctic (shot in Canada) landscapes and a filthy joke (in subtitled Norwegian) that is about the only element of humour in the otherwise increasingly scary/suspenseful proceedings

The action kicks off with the discovery by Norwegian scientists of a crashed alien spaceship under the Antarctic icecap and apparently lodged there for some 100,000 years.

They also discover an alien frozen in a block of ice and American paleontologist Winstead is recruited to study it. Which, isolated in an Antarctic research station, makes for a tough time for her when the creature explodes out of its ice block and, savage and shape-shifting, proceeds to decimate the luckless members of the expedition. Which is when Winstead and her trusty flamethrower finally come into their own…

The film scores with fear fans by sticking firmly to genre rules. Fake ‘make-you-jump’ shocks are followed by genuine shocks, tension is efficiently created and maintained and the director sensibly allows the special effects-created creatures and their blood-gushing attacks rather than acting to dominate the proceedings.

As the song says, ‘Things ain’t what they used to be”. Maybe not. But this will do perfectly well until the next remake.

Alan Frank

USA 2011. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour.
102 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 02 Dec 2011