CGI ain’t no “Thing”

the thing

The Thing

dir. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.

Release Date: Oct 14, 11

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John Carpenter’s slow-burning 1982 classic The Thing is a horror staple because of its patience and discipline in doling out small doses of the titular creature for much of its running time. Sure, there are some amazing creature effects, but they come only when necessary, and are not oversaturated in an effort to elicit a series of cheap pops from the audience, leaving them stimulated but ultimately deafened at the film’s end. By stark contrast, the new incarnation of The Thing is lazy and tone-deaf, mistaking the naturalistic, frozen terror of the original for a film in need of more exposition, so the audience isn’t obligated for even a second to imagine what happens beyond the edges of the frame.

Still set in Antarctica, this time we follow Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, no Kurt Russell on many levels), a¬†paleontology¬†grad student commissioned by Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) to investigate a mysterious, massive object underneath the ice, near which a specimen of some kind was found. Curious but apprehensive, Kate heads south, meets the crew (distinguished mostly by their beards and/or level of comprehension of English) and discovers that the specimen isn’t as frozen as they’d hoped. Graphic violence and a festival of exposition ensue.

The latter cannot be stressed enough. Confused by the idea of a monster that takes over the bodies of those it kills? Don’t worry, because The Thing will take you by the hand, explaining this in five-minute intervals despite the fact that Kate by all accounts should be terrified and wielding a flamethrower instead. You’ll also get a thorough dose of the science behind the copying process, some shots of cells multiplying and a half-witted update of the famous petri dish scene from the original, this time involving cavity fillings.

It’s extremely rare for me to climb up on the anti-CGI high horse; it’s reductive, loyalist thinking and it encourages a bias against modern cinema simply due to its modernity. In the case of The Thing, it’s time to mount the steed and charge. Not only is the creature questionably scary (if ever there was a time to use shadows as a crutch, it’d be here), but near the film’s end, when far too much backstory for the Thing is provided, the fully animated environments are laughable. The Thing falls prey to the simplest error in horror cinema: What we can’t see is far scarier than what we can.