John Carpenter's 1982 version of "The Thing," itself a remake of a 1951 Howard Hawks film, had the misfortune of being released on the same day as "Blade Runner," and during a week in which "ET," "Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan" and "Poltergeist" were all still doing brisk business. It finished eighth that opening weekend and after a month it was gone. But since then it has risen in esteem to be widely considered among the great horror films of all time. Now there's a new "Thing," but it's not a remake—though they easily could've passed it off as one.
All the same, "The Thing" is a good old fashion monster movie the likes of which doesn’t get made very often anymore, and proves conclusively that rising star Mary Elizabeth Winstead has serious star power.
The new new Thing (to borrow a phrase from Michael Lewis) begins just days before Carpenter's '82 version, and finds paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Winstead) being recruited to investigate an amazing discovery down in Antarctica. A Norwegian team has stumbled upon a giant spaceship buried deep under the ice, and not far away, is an alien creature frozen solid. They drag it back to camp, past a group of Americans (led by Australian Joel Edgerton) and, well, the next thing you know, The Thing is exploding out of the ice, running out into the cold, and soon begins to kill the researchers one by one. But what makes The Thing so tough to fight is that upon killing you it absorbs you and then turns into an exact replica. The film quickly turns into a game of Ten Little Indians, but you don't know who's been killed until that person kills you. It's is, in essence, a virus.
Winstead shines in her first starring role—in fact, it’s the first time she's played a grown-up. The toughness that has served her so well in "Grindhouse," "Live Free or Die Hard" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World," is called upon as never before, and she keeps a head as cool as Ripley's in "Alien," to which this "Thing" owes a huge debt. Her Kate is smart and methodical, taking control of a situation in which three parties with competing interests—the Norwegians, the Americans and The Thing—are running amok.
Edgerton feels a bit wasted here, as his Carter is a relatively minor player—this is really Winstead's film all the way through. He's never really given a chance to establish much of a character, which is a shame, 'cuz hes a talented guy.
"The Thing"'s greatest weakness is its Thing, which is so over-the-top and which we see so much of, that you become rather inured to its hideous appearance. Great horror is about the unknown lurking around the corner, and while at some point you have to show your hand, van Heijningen tips his cards too far and too often. Oh, and there's one moment in the film where van Heijningen does everything short of circle something with a telestrator to ensure you notice it—it's always a bummer when a director can’t trust his audience.