The original version of this film was in 1982 and it was remarkable in its ability to combine a whodunit mystery with traditional, sci-fi horror. The Thing 2011 bills itself as a prequel, but in reality feels more like a remake since the plot remains mostly unchanged. Fans of the original shouldn’t be dismayed since The Thing 2011 is a faithful update with some nice creature effects. Newcomers will get to experience the thrill of the original in contemporary fashion.
Set in the early 80s, a team of Norwegian scientists discover an alien craft buried in the ice of Antarctica. Remarkably, they also find an alien creature long since frozen in the tundra as well. So the team enlists the help of American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), because of her experience with ice digs. The trip proves to be more than Kate bargained for when the creature escapes from the thawed block of ice encasing it and runs loose in the compound, attacking the researchers. Kate soon makes the ghastly discovery that the creature has the ability to infect its victims with alien cells that perfectly replicate human cells, effectively becoming whoever the creature comes in contact with. With everyone in the camp now a potential alien, it’s up to Kate to discover who is human and who is not before everyone is turned and the infection spreads to the rest of the world.
The plot is almost identical to the original 1982 version of this film, so those familiar with that incarnation won’t find too many surprises here despite the film being a prequel. Still, the fact that the sequence of events are still so effective here is a testament to how well made the first film was. First-time viewers need only enjoy the film.
The formula is what really makes The Thing shine. Traditional horror elements, like being stranded and cut off from outside help, meld with the sci-fi terror of an alien monster attacking humans, while also engaging audiences by keeping them on their toes, looking for clues that betray the infected. They all come together to touch on basic human fears, like paranoia, to fill audiences with delicious dread. While it isn’t too difficult to guess who is what – especially with the trailer giving away a few reveals – it’s still satisfying when an infected transforms and attacks.
Even though this film is meant to be a prequel, the creature effects are much slicker and more believable than the 1982 version, which relied heavily on practical effects. Today, with the technical wizardry of CGI, the alien is much more menacing, agile and ferocious. It’s a real treat to watch the monster chase its targets around the compound and actually fear for the victims. The way it absorbs or infects those it comes into contact with is also truly gruesome and horrific without being distasteful. It’s the idea of being taken over that’s scary, not the gore.
The Thing 2011 is the perfect example of concept trumping everything else. The cast is quite large and viewers will probably have a difficult time sorting out individual character traits, so there isn’t much emotional investment required here. All of the actors do a fine job of looking scared and running around, screaming, but their acting doesn’t get to go much farther than that due to limited screen time. A large cast does ensure a high body count, however, which is always nice to have in these types of films.
The only time the movie ever stumbles is when it tries to accommodate the events of the original. For the most part, The Thing 2011 inserts elements found in the original film organically in this version, like the two-headed torched corpse. Other times, the elements feel shoehorned, like leaving one particular character alive if only because he’s needed at the beginning of the 1982 version. The problem is that it’s never explained how he survived; he just comes out of nowhere at the end.
Nitpicky complaints aside, The Thing 2011 is an excellently crafted film that will definitely keep audiences enthralled while simultaneously wanting to look away as potential victims round blind corners. Audiences looking to celebrate the scares of Halloween season a little early won’t be disappointed here.