Remakes are a tricky business, but they’re a huge chunk of the world of horror these days. The trend was kicked off by the surprising success of 2003′s Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, and since then we’ve seen many of the beloved horror films from the 1970’s and 80’s rebooted for a modern audience. The makers of the 2011 film The Thing sidestepped remaking John Carpenter’s cult masterpiece by going the prequel root – it’s basically the same story, but without using the same characters. Which keeps it from being blasphemous for horror fans, but in doing so tells a story no one needed to know.

The Players:

The Plot:

An American scientist (Winstead) is recruited to go to a Norwegian camp in Antarctica when they discover a spaceship. And then they excavate an alien being, which makes it the find of the century. Dr. Sander Halvorson (Thomsen) thinks they should proceed with an immediate autopsy, and by defrosting the creature it brings it back to life and it begins absorbing, killing and replacing the humans around it. Quickly the remaining humans try to find clues to how to detect and defeat the alien presence before it assimilates everyone.

The Good:

  •  Monster Movie: Horror films are often cyclical, in that if something like Hostel does well, then a number of films will be done in that style for the next couple years. The same could be said for most genres, but with horror the fingerprints are more self-evident. What we haven’t seen on the big screen for quite some time is a full blown monster and effects movie, and if The Thing isn’t a great precursor to the 1982 film, it not just a standard slasher, or found footage type of horror movie.
  • The Monsters: Though it can’t top the practical effects of the first film, the work here is excellently creepy. You want to both look and not look at moments.
  •  The Attempt at Pacing and Tone: Though not entirely successful, the film does try to go for the slow burn, though often undercuts that by exploding too early. But with so much of horror based around people being chased, the stillness here is refreshing, and there’s moments where you almost feel like they’ve got it. Alas.

 The Bad:

  • Completely Unnecessary: The inherent problem with prequels – and this is a problem that George Lucas’s prequel films never overcame – is at the end of day did you need or get anything relevant out of these additions to the narrative? Or is it just a chance to play in that playground without the interesting narrative drive of the original(s). Here – though it maps right into the Carpenter film – 2011′s The Thing tells a story that you never needed to know, or could have guessed without sitting through this narrative.
  • Bland Characters: The first film had a great ensemble of characters, with different energies. Sure, the first characters to go were not all that well developed, but with a small ensemble film like this, it’s great to have personalities like the kinds played by Keith David, Donald Moffat, and Wilford Brimley. Here you’ve got two pilots (Edgerton, Akinnuoye-Agbaje), two Americans (Winstead, Olsen) and a bunch of Norwegians, with only the woman and the lead scientist among them all that defined. And even the characters you can separate don’t have that much character. You don’t sense backstory, you sense archetypes.
  • Dread: With a story like this the ending is practically spelled out by the nature of it being a prequel. If you know the Carpenter film, you know it’s not going to end well for the characters (on top of it being a horror movie). But where there’s a number of films that capitalize on the fatalism inherent in such a project, this never makes you uncomfortable.
  • The Thing: Here’s the thing, in the original, the monster didn’t jump out at you unless it had to, and here if it touches you it can take you over, so the film’s bigger shock effects works against the creature’s purpose and inherent talents. That may be more of a nit-pick, but still.

Overall:

If you’re looking for a scary movie and haven’t seen the Carpenter Thing, this delivers jump scares a-plenty. The problem with a film like this is that it won’t satisfy fans of the original, and the ending may leave people who don’t know that film cold. In the end it may satisfy neither. The film isn’t doing too well at Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s worth noting that John Carpenter’s The Thing took a pummeling from critics at the time, and only eventually became respected as a classic. Perhaps hindsight will do this film favors as well.

Rating: 5.5/10

The Thing hits theaters October 14th.

Photos:

Trailer:

The Thing opens October 14.