Spoilers. Or are they…?
Yeah, so. Folks that know me well will be alarmingly aware that I’ve been putting off watching John Carpenter’s The Thing for not just as long as this 250 movie mission has been running, but for years. It’s on my list, and it’s been reviewed so early on in the year as I decided enough was enough. I’d deferred paying any attention to the movie as I’m not a huge fan of gore (or visceral horror, for that matter) – I am quite easily repulsed. I mean, there were even sections of Dawn of the Dead that I winced at. But, consider this: I summoned up the strength to sit through Hellraiser and four of the Saw films – so how have I rightfully avoided Thing all this time? Enough preamble. I sat down, I braced myself, I watched it. *gag*
The Thing is a tale of around a dozen arctic scientists/engineers discovering that a Norwegian team of explorers out in the vast coldness were mysteriously deformed and killed. They soon discover that the team unearthed an alien spaceship beneath 100,000 years’ worth of ice, and that whatever was riding in the craft emerged, and killed them all. It soon transpires that the alien (the titular Thing) shape-shifts. It absorbs and mimics living organisms, in order to continue splitting off, replicating and absorbing more prey. Its transformations are huge, vivid and disgusting (you should seriously see what it does to a dog) – and the bulk of the film’s drama comes from the protagonist team trying to suss out if they’re all still human after the Thing infiltrates and infects their compound. Naturally, this leads to standoffs, restrainings, folks going stir crazy, and all but two of them dying or becoming part of the Thing’s macabre stew by the climax.
I actually enjoyed this. The film’s selling point, its punter-puller, is the extreme gore and bodily horrors that ensue – and thirty years on, the effects are still absolutely horrifying. Considering this is a film celebrating its thirtieth anniversary, the vast majority of the animatronic and design hold up – like the stuff of nightmares.
It wasn’t so much this that impressed me, however. This is a ridiculously subtle film. Believe it or don’t. The vast majority of the drama comes from the silent, brooding, paranoia that runs rife through the various characters as they try to figure out who to trust, and who to torch. The surroundings and staging are both bleak and confined – it’s just them, and this grotesque shapeshifting killer beastie. There’s actually very little in the way of gore in the grand scheme of things – but what little there is, is horrible. This is a magnificently scary film only so due to the prolonged, tense spaces between Thing attacks and nervous breakdowns.
The characters aren’t massively developed, but there’s a fair few of them, so lavish back stories are absent for a reason. If anything, there’s too many characters – it was hard keeping track of who was who and where out of the tertiary cast (save for Kurt Russell, Keith David and Wilford Brimley, who are the most prominent). But, as the film goes on, it’s clearly not about the characters – it’s about The Thing. This should be insanely obvious, but things don’t start steamrollering ahead until about halfway through, when the paranoia starts kicking in, and when Brimley gets a touch of the ol’ cabin fever.
Despite its lack of depth, the direction and style of this film create more than enough fear, and enough tension, to entertain anyone out for a quick psychological scare, as well as those in it simply to laugh at the outrageous FX.
PROS: Subtly directed, great cast, incredible visuals, wonderfully intense. Truly scary, unlike a certain zombie flick…
CONS: Ultimately pretty depressing given the hanging ending, and no glimmers of hope for any of the characters. Too many characters.
9/10. I seriously don’t have much to say against this. I haven’t seen a movie this desperately intense or genuinely frightening in a while, and of those I’ve seen so far this year, it’s one of the best directed, and among the most memorable. I think I’ll watch it again. I may even watch the sequel. Who knew?