Unsettling Paranoia, Special Effects Showcase ‘The Thing’

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CHICAGO – With Halloween approaching, what will truly scare us at the cinema this month? One strong entry is this weekend’s “The Thing,” the third remake of a wild and mysterious monster movie. It combines a European-style approach to paranoia with some truly unique monster effects.

Newcomer Matthijs van Jeijningen directs this version as a prequel to the events in John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” and uses the cold tundra of Antarctica as a character, interacting with the human element that is isolated with a monster they cannot control. The stress of this situation is palpable throughout the film, and that is what sets it apart – the willingness to use simple psychology to generate the fright. The special effects monster itself is one-of-a-kind, created with a look that is fascinatingly grotesque.

An Antarctica exploration team makes an amazing discovery, an energy force that turns out to be a hidden alien spacecraft. The egotistical leader of the team, Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), wants to keep the findings secret, and enlists a crew of scientists and workers to make sure that will happen. One team member is paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is brought in because the actual alien has been found encased in ice.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate and Ulrich Thomsen as Halverson in ‘The Thing’
Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate and Ulrich Thomsen as Halverson in ‘The Thing’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Naturally, this life form escapes, and begins to wreak havoc on the isolated crew. The problem is that this “thing” can replicate as a host within other cellular life forms, including human beings. The crew begins to suspect each other of harboring the alien in their cells, and this delusion begins to creep into all the corners of the exploratory camp. Kate Lloyd is the only person to figure this out, and enlists helicopter pilot Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton) to prevent the monster from reaching general civilization.

This is a labor of love from the production team, choosing to imagine what happened before the Carpenter film started. The reference in that film to the “Norwegian camp” was explored to the most minute details, in order to create this new scenario, set in the same year. There is a slow, deliberate pacing, designed to create the atmosphere of dread. When the monster does appear, it is appropriately frightening, we look around the corners of the freezing hut with the characters, hoping not to encounter the alien.

Norwegian actors were used in some key parts, and it is their sensibility that permeates the camp. The stoic nature of these European actors heighten the sense of fear. Winstead’s Kate Lloyd gets frustrated by this tactic, and in true American style starts to inject her impatience into the crew. This clash of cultures – which includes a language barrier – gives this monster movie another point to reference and increases the fear factor.

The monster itself is monumental in its design and movement. There are some truly horrible moments with the creature, but it maintains a fascination. Despite the blood-and-guts spew that accompanies the monster presence, the effects of the creature are so well done that for once there was little covering of the eyes, because it was so captivating an image.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Derek and Joel Edgarton as Sam in ‘The Thing’
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Jameson and Joel Edgarton as Sam in ‘The Thing’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

As in all horror films, there are many logic leaps that need to be made (as in how does all that heavy equipment work in Antarctica) and wooden dialogue that has to be tolerated, but once “The Thing” gets its mojo on, it becomes riveting. In a film where a monster is on the loose, the endings can just slow down and peter out. But there is a great ending in “The Thing,” and doesn’t pander even as it offers a possible continuation.

So celebrate the ghoulish holiday by joining the guys and gals of the Norwegian camp, sing along to their folks songs, consider the alien creature encased in a block of ice and don’t forget to show off your dental work. An ounce of prevention might pound out the cure.

“The Thing” opens everywhere October 14th. Featuring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Olsen and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Screenplay by Eric Heisserer, directed by Matthijs van Heijningen. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2011 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

Manny be down's picture

The Thing

I truly love this flick. To me, it’s a labor of love.

ziggy one of the best's picture


I think this is better than the first one

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