John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) was a remake of the movie, The Thing from Another World (1951).  This version of The Thing credits John W. Campbell Jr’s novella Who Goes There? and wants to be the Rise of the Planet of the Apes to Carpenter’s work.  That is, ostensibly it’s a prequel (that revelation may be a spoiler, though in fact it has a way of managing to make the movie make even less sense upon reflection).

Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers—and arguably, Planet of the Apes—The Thing is a movie remade every generation or so.  As such, it usually is provides a bit of commentary on the age it was made in.  Set in 1982, there is plenty of Cold War mistrust to play on, though the sentiment is largely reversed with the not subtle underlying message of “the American’s are the real enemy”.  Which would be telling and interesting if we had any confidence that this was intentional, but this betrays a belief that this film was made in a haphazard way, s o let’s back up a bit to the idea of remakes of such iconic films.

The danger of such remakes, especially ones still relatively fresh in the cultural memory, is that they play on and are held up against memories and feelings attached to the original.  Which means from frame one, The Thing is waging a losing campaign.

“We have to trust this plan.  It’s our only hope of making it through this.” –Kate

The Thing has a terminal case of what can only be diagnosed as A.D.D. Horror.  The two chief symptoms of it as manifesting in this movie are 1) lack of characters and 2) lack of tension.  The Thing goes through the motions of trying to explain things, but ultimately says nothing.  What we have is that an alien vessel crashes on the Earth 100,000 years ago, it’s survivor goes out for a stroll (since there are no thermometers on their ship) then just chills, literally, until it’s dug up by an international collection of scientists.  This sophisticated alien, capable of building and flying an interstellar vessel, then runs through people like a box full of Scooby snacks.

“It attacks its prey, copies it perfectly, then hides inside us.  Waiting.” –Kate

The whole enterprise proves a hollow endeavor as there is no real terror because there are no characters.  Which the exception of Dr. Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), armed with a flamethrower while channeling her best Ellen Ripley from the Aliens movie franchise, the characters exist to be alien chow.  Of special note was Oz’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Jameson/“lone black guy in a horror movie”, whose only role seemed to be to constantly explore long dark hallways by himself.

“Someone here may not be themselves.” –Juliette (Kim Bubbs)

Again, none of this mattered because there’s no rhyme or reason to its killing.  The thing was described as a predator, and after 100,000 it might have been ready for dinner, but my two sons mid-growing spurt don’t eat as often as the thing does.  Which leads to the second symptom of A.D.D. horror:  lack of tension.  Proving that first time helmer, Matthijs van Heijningen, didn’t quite grasp what made John Carpenter’s The Thing work, the movie demonstrated no patience in allowing tension to build.  In Carpenter’s version, characters had to sit with the knowledge that an alien walked among them for long stretches.  In The Thing, it plays out pretty much the same way over and over, something like this:

“One of us is an alien.”

“I wonder who it is.”

Everyone barely has time to take a breath.  “Okay, it’s me.  ROAR!”

Adding to the repetitious nature of the film was the fact that the monster had the same tell for who it lurked in (hint: it’s always the one yelling “kill that one!” or “it’s him!”).  All of this reduces this classic of terror to little more than a generic horror film.

“It’s like a virus.” –Kate

As for any sort of spiritual connection, in a lot of ways “the thing” is reminiscent of how sin operates.  An Adam, in this case, something alien to the created order, introduces a sense that something is not right, that we’re not who we’re supposed to be.  Prowling about like a devouring lion, it spreads like a virus, leaving in its wake fear, paranoia, and ultimately bringing death.  The infection spreads, replicating almost like a conscious disease. Because of the introduction of sin, the created order is disrupted, neither humanity (once infected with sin) nor creation are as they are meant to be. There is disharmony between each person and themselves (their bodies are not their own, not doing what they know to be right), disharmony between each person with each other person, disharmony between humanity and creation (even the animals are different).  The center of the conscious, this sin that has lead to a cycle of death and depravity, has to be crushed.

“So what do we do now?” –Kate

The special effects are okay, though they beg the question “just because you can do an effect, should you do an effect?”  Because getting the effect right seemed to be the priority and they don’t even stand up compared to Rob Bottin’s f/x from three decades ago.  Where John Carpenter’s The Thing was wildly imaginative and inventive with a dark humor to it, this one is stripped of all of that, preying on our familiarity with Carpenter’s version to coast by.  Strictly a by the numbers horror with not much of a thrill ride to accompany it, The Thing, much like the alien itself, mimics its host in nearly every way, except capturing its soul.