GENRE: Stomach-churning sci-fi
THE PITCH: An American scientist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and pilot (Joel Edgerton) join a team of Norwegians to investigate an alien frozen in the Antarctic ice. When it thaws, the thing reveals a terrifying ability to imitate and replace human beings. An illegal alien stealing our jobs!
BEST LINE: "We found a fucking alien! Cheers!" exclaims one Norwegian guy, in subtitles. He actually says "Skål!" out loud.
SECOND BEST LINE: "Not all of us are human," Winstead informs a new arrival.
WORST LINE: "You're not here to think. You're here to get the thing safely out of the ice," the mission's jerky director (Ulrich Thomsen) tells Winstead. And she's supposed to do that by not thinking?
MOST THEMATICALLY LOADED LINE: "The Americans are the real enemy!" declares Thomsen, suggesting a vague theme of nationalistic suspicion.
MONEY SHOTS (WITH MINOR SPOILERS): A Norwegian caterpillar tractor discovers the frozen flying saucer by falling into a crevasse. The thing bursts through a sheet of ice like a jack-in-the-box. A close-up of a victim's face in an amniotic sack. Appendages run around and make mischief. Shots of the half-concealed thing's spidery limbs usually prove scarier than its full body.
MONEY SOUNDS: An autopsy scene features wet, splashy noises that might really put you off your feed.
FLESH FACTOR: The thing's mouth usually looks like one of those tentacled vagina dentata of Japanese specialty porn. When morphing from alien to human, the entity's often partially nude with extra limbs sticking out, so we see lots of thigh-meat. At one point, the thing presses its bearded man-face up to another guy's cheek, like they're about to kiss — talk about cooties.
SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHT: Men at Work's more-or-less period-appropriate "Who Can It Be Now?" probably refers to the title of The Thing's source material, "Who Goes There?" by James W. Campbell Jr.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: Winter nights in Antarctica approach 24 hours of darkness, but the film suggests a more conventional daylight cycle. (To be fair, so did the original film.)
BETTER THAN THE ORIGINALS? No. Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. offers a chronological prequel to the 1982 film and stays as faithful as possible to director John Carpenter's continuity, giving the story a note of impending doom. But he also imitates some shots and sequences too directly without offering the same shock value, smart dialogue or fresh ideas of its own. The best Thing remains the suspenseful, snappy-paced black-and-white entry from 1951, produced by Howard Hawks.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The Thing's first half builds suspense surprisingly well even though it ultimately lapses into action sci-fi clichés. The monster effects prove memorably disgusting, if not as freakily ingenious as the 1982 film. It slurps and slithers, but it doesn't suck.