The Thing (2011) Review

poster from the Universal Pictures film The Thing 2011

I have not seen the original The Thing, which is the way I usually like it when I’m trying to review remakes. The tendency is to assume that the new one is just lazily leeching off the older one’s success, so it’s better to go in fresh and evaluate it on its own merits. But in fact this new The Thing is not a remake. It’s actually a prequel with the same name as the original. What?? Whatever. It has essentially the same plot as the original, anyway, as that’s generally how things go with horror “sequels” – change the setting or characters and repeat.

A team of Norwegian scientists in Antarctica accidentally release a murderous frozen alien life form that can hide among them by imitating human tissue.

This is a very scary premise, and I was genuinely unnerved by The X-Files season one episode “Ice,” which borrowed from the original Thing. I had great hopes for this movie, especially since Joel Edgerton, a recent addition to my Awesome List, was in it, but despite the promising premise, it turned out rather blah. Not bad, but not that good, either.

There are a number of problems with The Thing. All movies have problems, but the good ones can make you ignore and/or forget about them while you’re watching them. This one can’t. It leaves way too many questions unanswered. In the very beginning of the movie, it’s 1982. A Norwegian ice crawler is tracking a signal and falls into a fissure in the ice, where it gets jammed nose-down over a huge alien spaceship. I assume that this incident marks the end of these scientists. By all accounts, Antarctica is very cold, so they would likely freeze to death.

ice crawler falling down a fissure from the Universal Pictures film The Thing 2011

Although, no one in this movie ever seems to wear a hat or snow pants, so maybe it’s not all that cold.

Cut to America. A random Norwegian scientist named Dr. Halvorson (Ulrich Thompsen) and a vaguely Norwegian American named Adam (Eric Christian Olsen) show up in the lab of Dr. Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Despite her apparent young age, she is not a grad student but a real doctor and they want her to come on a mysterious expedition with them, which I guess means the crawler guys lived. She seems like the only knows Adam in passing from a conference or something, but she goes with them anyway, because I guess she has no self preservation instinct.

Eric Christian Olsen doing a blood test from the Universal Pictures film The Thing 2011

Come on, Kate. It’s only science in a remote base full of men. What could go wrong?

At this point, I wasn’t sure whether we were still in 1982 or not or if we had cut to the present day. There was no dated subtitle, but Kate was using a modern fiber optic scope to examine the interior of a saber toothed tiger, and I don’t think they had those in 1982. However, most of the other evidence points to the 80s. No one has any cell phones or satellite phones to call for help, and the helicopter they arrived in is a relic of the past.

Sea King approaching Thule Base from the Universal Pictures film The Thing 2011

That the Canadian military still flies, albeit with a great deal of trepidation.

Kate bonds with the pilot, Carter (Joel Edgerton), by dint of having a brief conversation about sports with him, and everyone settles in to poke and prod at the giant block of ice containing a murderous looking bug-alien. Halvorson decides to drill into it (presumably to get the plot going, because it’s not very scientific) and they all stand around it without masks, gloves, or eye protection because I guess that’s how real scientists roll when confronted with an unknown, possibly diseased, possibly harmful, definitely deadly looking alien (not).

drilling into the frozen alien from the Universal Pictures film The Thing 2011

You can, however, forgive them for thinking it was dead, on account of it being frozen.

It, of course, is not really dead. It bursts out of the ice like the monster from Alien came out of John Hurt’s chest. It murders a couple of Norwegians, they fry it with a flame thrower they conveniently had lying around, and proceed to study it like the scientists they really may possibly be, except that they again fail to protect themselves, which leads to some of them having their cells taken over by alien DNA. They’re so stupid, I think they may actually deserve it.

scientists dissect the alien from the Universal Pictures film The Thing 2011

Um, guys? It wasn’t dead the last time you thought it was dead. Why would this be different?

We have no idea what the alien wants. Food? To go home? And unlike in Alien, it has no discernible life cycle. It doesn’t even have a consistent form. The alien they found was a giant beetle thing, but sometimes it takes over cells and looks like people (presumably as a hunter-camouflage thing, except they never say that) but most of the time it prefers to lurch around somewhere between those two forms looking like the necromorphs from Dead Space.

neromorph from the Universal Pictures film The Thing 2011

Which I’m assuming were ripped off of the original Thing.

With the alien able to replicate anyone’s form, you would think the result would be a tense, frightening movie where people turn on each other as they try to figure out who it is, meanwhile the real alien is off luring people into deserted closets in order to pull their faces off. And it is… for about twenty minutes.

Joel Edgarton and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje defending themselves from the Universal Pictures film The Thing 2011

You back off!
No, YOU back off!!

After that the movie is just a battle between a half-human, half bug, squealy monster thing and a bunch of humans with flame throwers. Like, really a lot of flame throwers. Way more flame throwers than you would expect there to be in a scientific research station. And despite the fact that they say repeatedly that no one can survive outside for long, they think nothing of burning down the entire research station with these things.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead with a flame thrower from the Universal Pictures film The Thing 2011

Maybe they’re planning to survive by sitting around the giant bonfire they made until someone rescues them.

Again, a chase scene in a burning building would be tense and scary if we actually cared about the characters. But we don’t, because we know nothing about them. Apart from Kate, Carter, and his black co-pilot (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), everyone else is a random bearded Norwegian. I did care a little about Carter, but only because I like Joel Edgerton from his other stuff. Oh, and I liked the dog because it was cute. But that’s it.

dog from the Universal Pictures film The Thing 2011

I swear to God, if you hurt that dog…

So all in all, it was pretty standard. I feel like it could have been great, though, if they’d just fleshed out the characters a little more (they take the Kate/Carter love interest thing nowhere) and stuck more to psychological horror rather than screaming flailing monster chases. But if you’re a horror fan you’ll still like it enough to make buying a ticket worthwhile. It’s just not going to end up on your top ten list. Or even your top fifty.

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