In the John Carpenter film The Thing the instigating event becomes the end of this new film The Thing from credited writer Eric Heisserer and director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.. For this film concentrates on what happened to the first camp that came across the creature, the camp that discovered it beneath the ice, released it and were the first to deal with it.
As much as it was said that this new film was not a remake of the John Carpenter classic, I couldn't help but feel as though it was going to go down pretty much the same route - creature exposed to the camp, people die one at a time, camp realise and are paranoid of everyone else, they try to isolate it, and so on.
I was wrong though. They have managed to keep focused on the idea that this is a prequel and that there's a film to come, and they needed to provide something different for those who have seen the John Carpenter film. I think they did, although there are still plenty of similarities.
I'm not sure how much of his script made it through and who is responsible for everything that appeared in the final script, but you can certainly believe that a lot of his influence remains.
A group of scientists in a remote Antarctic station have discovered something amazing and the lead scientist Dr. Sander Halvorson, played by Ulrich Thomsen, enlists the assistance of a palaeontologist Kate Lloyd, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, to uncover and identify what they have found.
When she arrives they quickly move the find into the camp to being investigation with the plan being to move the discovery to a lab and investigate, however Dr Halvorson has other ideas and his actions result in a terrifying creature being released amongst the isolated camp.
Alone, with their escape options rapidly cut off, both the members of the camp and the creature are trying to find any way to survive and get away from the frozen isolation they are trapped in.
There are going to be comparisons between Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.'s The Thing and John Carpenter's The Thing, after all this is a prequel some nineteen years after the fact, and there's no avoiding the fact that the two stories are very similar. However I can say this upfront that the comparisons are actually very favourable and despite the limitations of the story itself, it does a great job of finding its own story to tell.
The limitations are not just in the basic plot, but throughout the film. Place a bunch of characters in a series of buildings in Antarctic conditions and you have a really confined set of variables with limited options to move the story along, the confines of the location have already limited the film's choices. Then throw in the fact that we have seen how the story ends and how some of the buildings look on the inside after the events of this story, and the story has even more constraints.
I have to give credit to all the scriptwriters involved as they have come up with different story turns and twists to keep things interesting. Sure there are a lot of similarities, something I was expecting, but there was enough that was different to keep my mind off the fact that there were these connections and this was clearly not a rehashing of the original story.
There are some key areas where things differ; the lead is not merely replacing a man with a woman, for I did feel that the lead of this new The Thing is a shared role, for a fair bit of the film with Carter, played by Joel Edgerton.
Then there's the final act where the story definitely does go places we haven't considered before, and where the previous film didn't, or couldn't, further towards the science fiction element. What's so great about this is that while it is delivering something new for us it's not taking us too far away from the horror and thriller cores of the film that it has built to this point and it doesn't go off all X-Files or too fantastical for the rest of the story.
One of the things we must remember, or rather those that are concerned about it being just the same as The Thing must bear in mind, is that if it is too far away from The Thing it could be in danger of being too different to the film and story it must lead into, and that's why it must also be similar to the Carpenter film.
It manages to do that well in a number of areas; the thriller aspect of the film is strong, the horror element does not take over, neither does the science fiction, and the tension is built well as is the distrust and paranoia. This feeling isn't as strong as in the first film I felt, but it is there and definitely had a rise out of me for quite a good portion of the film.
The horror is ramped up, and here's where one of my worries lay that they would overplay the horror or ruin the creature and I'm happy to report that there was a decent amount of practical effects to what we saw, rather than being all CG and despite the fact that we see much more of the creature, it doesn't spoil the effect or the fear of it. The creature here is frightening and feels physical and weighty, as though it really is attacking and packing a punch, some of the visual effects aren't that nice to watch, and a couple of moments had me squirming a little and screwing my face up. Not that they were gory, but that they were creepy and unsettling, coupled with a pretty frightening creature.
Talking about feeling something from the film I have to mention the locations, for it really did look and feel as though it was filmed in the middle of the Antarctic, although a couple of the indoor scenes did look a little as though the characters had CG breath coming from their mouths, we still all felt absolutely frozen in the cinema.
Another aspect of the film that you really felt was around the sound design. I don't often notice a good use of spatial movement in the audio of a large cinema, but with The Thing there were a few scenes where I really did. What's more is the weight of the creature is really down to the sound design, the noises it makes are not only uncomfortable but also frightening. The creature's screams and roars really did get to me more than I expected they would, and it's this area coupled with the use of practical effects that helped make it so convincing.
The cast were very good too. I was surprised how well I took to Winstead's character and how soon I just accepted her role in the film, I had thought I might find issue with a female action lead fighting a bizarre creature in a confined and isolated place with people being picked off one by one (are you with me?), but I did take to her, and perhaps aided by the fact that she is scared, out of her depth, doesn't have the answer for everything and isn't the only character to lead the story forward.
Edgerton is also good in his role, as is Thomsen, the scientist's assistant Adam Finch played by Eric Christian Olsen, and another camp resident Peder, played by Stig Henrik Hoff, were also responsible for taking me into the film and making me connect so well with the characters and the story.
The final act was rather surprising as it was quite the departure from where I was expecting we would be, but it does bring things back and take us where we are expecting to go, but not before delivering an ending that, while it lacks the powerful feel of the first, it does go some way towards it and tries to offer a little bit more of a conclusion. It can't compete with the excellent ending of Carpenter's though.
The Thing has turned out to be a very strong prequel to the original. It compliments it well matching the mood and the tone closely, and while the confines of the story mean that it can't stray too far from the original, it does it well enough to offer different aspects to the story.
This new The Thing also expands the story into an area we hadn't thought about before, providing a new facet to the story that was only touched on in the original. With all these aspects to it the film does provide something more than a remake of The Thing, which is what some believed we would see despite the change of camp.
It's not only well written in the development of the story to the point we expect, or weaving through the confines of the lore we knew, but it also delivers plenty of tension and suspense, something I was also surprised it managed to do so well.
It's well filmed and has excellent sound design and effects around the creature itself making it feel as though it is a real danger to the team. The creature itself looks similar to the one we see in John Carpenter's The Thing, although for me there was more of an alien feel to it, which is probably to be expected considering how newer it is to this world than in Carpenter's The Thing.
This is a solid thriller horror with the emphasis on thriller which compares very well to the original and does offer more than you would expect. There are some strong leads with solid performances, and while the power of the paranoia and the final scenes of the original film may be lacking here, it does make up for it in other areas.