THE THING:  Watch It At Home – Not Interesting Enough To Be Scary
The third movie iteration of THE THING is as impersonal as the creature it’s about.  This version, the first feature directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr and with a script credited to Eric Heisserer (he wrote the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street and the most recent Final Destination movie), claims to be a “prequel” to John Carpenter’s 1982 thriller, but while that’s technically true (if you stay for the end credits, you’ll see a nice segue sequence that brings us to the beginning of the Carpenter movie), for all intents and purposes, until the last reel, it’s basically a remake, since it tells the same story that movie did.

We’re back in the Antarctic, where an alien whatsit has been uncovered in the ice.  Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is recruited by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomson) to join his mostly-Norwegian crew and help him figure out what The Thing is.  But of course, Sander is just arrogant enough to ignore Kate’s advice not to disturb the visitor, and that turns out to be a bad idea.   The alien, you see, has the ability to duplicate the DNA of those around it at a cellular level, so the people you’re sitting with and talking to may actually be It.  When discovered, The Thing has a nasty habit of sprouting tangles of messily organic tendrils and mutating into monstrous versions of human tissue on their way to engulfing and/or slaughtering anyone nearby.
The new film goes through its paces efficiently enough, and there are plenty of grossly contorted body parts transformed into man-eating monsters.  But it all feels very perfunctory.  The original version of The Thing from 1951 was an effectively tense allegory about the contemporary issue of worrying who among you was a spy, and its dialogue benefited from the touch of producer (some would say director) Howard Hawks.  Carpenter’s movie upped the grossness factor considerably (with superb physical effects by Rob Bottin) but also had a very strong cast of familiar character actors like Wilford Brimley, Richard Dysart, David Clennon and Keith David, so the idea of them being turned into monsters was disturbing.  Plus, of course, 1982 was still Carpenter’s heyday, and the movie was memorably suspenseful, with a terrific terse Ennio Morricone score that was much like one of Carpenter’s own for his lower-budget films.
In van Hejningen’s film, everyone except Winstead (who is appealing, but not memorable) is anonymous.  Joel Edgerton is technically the second lead, but he’s so weirdly colorless here that it comes as a surprise to realize that he’s actually meant to be important, while Thomson just glowers as the-scientist-who-steps-too-far.  The rest of the cast, much of which speaks Norwegian with subtitles, barely makes an impression, so seeing them get cut down one by one is like watching victims get wiped out in a Friday the 13th movie; you want to check your watch, waiting to see how long before anyone who counts is threatened.
Then, when the movie takes its one shot at doing something the earlier versions hasn’t (this time the expedition has uncovered more than the Thing), it falters badly, with a sequence that’s just too dumb to hold together.  This is followed, in the way of modern horror movies, with about 3 more endings, until we get to the link to Carpenter’s film.
The Thing is technically adept, although the filmmakers haven’t solved the problem of CG humans that don’t quite move with the weight or density of real people.  It has a sense of atmosphere, and compared to the trend of “found footage” horror pictures these days, at least it has a plot.  But it lacks humor, shading and surprise–mostly, ironically enough, it lacks humanity.  Loud noises and gore can make an audience jump, but they don’t make a movie scary.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."