John Carpenter’s The Thing was a great horror movie with a premise—a shapeshifting alien monster infiltrating and picking off a small group of people—that combined a grotesque, creepy monster with a mood of paranoia and mystery. How was a Thing? How could you be sure? When would some character suddenly grow tentacles and start wreaking havoc?
Furthermore, it was that rare sort of premise that actually seemed to beg for sequels, or at least spin-offs. It’s pretty simple—all you have to do is take the same monster, and stick it in another environment with a group of interesting characters, and voila! A great horror film.
Unfortunately, the 2011 remake/prequel/thing managed to do everything wrong. It sacrificed the element that made the original great—the uncertainty, the mystery of not knowing who was a Thing and who wasn’t—and instead opted for the cheapest trick in the horror movie handbook: the jump scare.
Jump scares work, in that they startle you, frighten you for perhaps a second, and make you, well, jump. But they’re a cheap and easy alternative to actual terror, the sort you can only create by developing interesting characters, and creating a mood of claustrophobia and entrapment. One has to wonder why anyone would bother making a thing remake, if they weren’t even going to properly utilize their star monster’s ability to perfectly mimic any human being. The answer is both obvious and depressing—the Thing, a recognizable brand name with a strong base of fans, sells more tickets than some random movie about an ugly alien stabbing a bunch of scientists with a tentacle would otherwise.
This film’s second unpardonable offense is that it steals so heavily from the Carpenter version. Rather than trying to do something creative and original with a good premise, the brains behind this poor excuse for a prequel instead seem content to copy entire scenes from the 1986 film. The Thing’s best and most exciting moment is when two groups of people face off along a hallway, aiming flamethrowers at each other, each convinced the other is a Thing. It’s a ray of brightness in an otherwise bland movie, but we’ve seen it all before. Which begs the question: why did this new “thing” movie even need to exist?
It’s not all bad. Some of the creature effects are downright creepy, especially when the monster is portrayed as a frightening mix of human and alien. When it comes to spine-tingling death scenes and pure ickiness, it comes close to the older version. Unfortunately, the characters are all so bland and underdeveloped, with the possible exception of the protagonist, it’s hard to tell one from another, and hard to get worked up when anyone dies.
A final death blow to the film is the fact that it misses the easy chance to have a decent ending—hell, the ending was practically handed to them on a silver platter. One of the only scenes this “thing” prequel didn’t steal from the original film was the very first one in the movie, when a Norwegian is gunned down because the Americans believe he is shooting at them, when in fact he is merely trying to kill a dog that is actually a horrible alien in disguise. If the movie had ended with this scene, audiences new to the Thing universe would have been left with a moderately clever twist ending in which the monster actually gets away, the implication being that it will then murder the unsuspecting Americans. Instead, the film cuts out about a minute shy of this moment. Maybe the filmmakers were assuming audiences had seen the original and would draw these implications themselves—but if they were assuming their target audience had already seen Carpenter’s The Thing, why create a carbon copy of the original, instead of giving the fans of the older movie something fresh? In short, this is a movie that is designed to appeal to no one—neither the fans of the Carpenter movie nor those going to see a stand-alone horror film. This Thing isn’t as bad as it could have been, I suppose, but it is not even a shade as good as it could have been, either, and that is truly a shame.