The past 10 years have not been kind to the American horror film. In all honesty, they’ve been emphatically cruel. Slowly and unfailingly, each year has introduced a steady slew of formulaic plot lines, swimming in sex and bloody pools of computer-generated gore. If there’s one thing filmmakers should have learned over the course of this unfortunate decade, it’s not to remake a John Carpenter film. Every single reboot — and there have been four — has been a resounding critical failure that caved under the hype of its original.

The Thing

At Quality 16 and Rave
Universal


The latest in this string of disappointments is “The Thing,” intended to be the prequel of the far superior 1982 film of the same name (itself a remake). Most of the major plot directives in both films follow a similar course, detailing the events that surround an Antarctic research group’s discovery of a downed alien aircraft and the unknown life form inhabiting it. Inevitably, the frozen, presumed dead extraterrestrial somehow wills itself alive and the fun begins.

But this isn’t the typical big-bad monster flick. For the most part, the audience is never given a chance to determine what or where the Thing is. Much of the plot is anchored around the idea that the alien can kill, ingest and somehow mimic the form of its victims, creating the unsavory feeling of being alone and unable to trust anyone around.

These undertones of suspicion, isolation and inescapable quarantine are what transformed Carpenter’s 1982 film into a classic. Unlike most modern horror films, it relied heavily on its ability to create an air of doubt to deliver the scares.

That’s not to say the older movie never gave us a good look at the monster terrorizing the camp. In fact, the makeup effort that went into making the Thing look as detestable as it sounds was groundbreaking at the time and is still considered one of the most precise and detailed cosmetics jobs ever done. The 2011 effort doesn’t stray far from the features that made the first film great, but unfortunately it simply delivers too little too late.

The whole idea of not knowing who to trust is diluted by forced acting on the part of the two leads, Mary Elizabeth Winstead ( “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) and Joel Edgerton ( “Warrior”). Winstead plays an American researcher who travels to Antarctica to study the “remains” of the alien while Edgerton stars as the dashing helicopter operator, an obvious reference to Kurt Russell’s R.J. MacReady from the original film. Regrettably, Edgerton’s somewhat blank performance just doesn’t match up to that gritty leader persona that Russell embodied so successfully and made his own. Winstead isn’t much better, offering the exact same horrified stare in every frame she appears.

Something else we see in virtually every other frame is the blown-up CGI version of the monster popping out of someone’s stomach to devour someone else’s face. It’s not that the makeup or the effects are bad, but seeing them over and over again takes away from the suspicion that rose up so organically in the first movie. You never knew when or where or even if the Thing would pop up, and when it did, it jerked you to the edge of your seat. In this film, it’s just a question of what “gotcha” moment the director has engineered next to try and scare you. Sure it’ll make you jump. But that fear, just like the movie, never manages to stick.

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