Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton
Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
It’s hard to imagine what films today would be like had flicks like those of the Saw and Hostel franchises never seen the light of day. Given our generation’s clear preference for excess over nuance in almost all aspects of life, this must seem like a far-fetched notion indeed.
Realistically speaking, it’s hard to articulate what the modern horror genre would even be without its familiar buckets of gut-wrenching gore, aside from quick cuts of scared teenagers running around and occasional cameos by washed-up rappers. The real question, though, is what this suggests about us. Are we losing our ability to be “cleverly” entertained?
Shocking though it may be to some of us, there once was a time when “horror” implied more than mass murder portrayed in stunning realism, when aspects of the genre like suspense and atmosphere weren’t just remnants of an earlier time.
On my way to see The Thing this weekend, I prayed that a modern remake of the original classic would do something to bring back the finesse for which horror was once known. I probably shouldn’t have got my hopes up.
By now you surely know the story in some form, whether by way of the earlier Thing movies or one of the innumerable copycats for which they are at least partly responsible. It’s the plot upon which so many modern horror movies have been grafted: research team goes to isolated outpost in remote part of the world to investigate discovery of unusual specimen, specimen goes absolutely apeshit, expendable characters start dying. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Without giving away too much, the specific plot structure of this movie and its predecessors is such that the plot is set up to be suspenseful right from the get-go, with each of the various characters not knowing which of the others to trust.
On paper the premise is perfectly calibrated to allow for maximal suspense, and in a way the movie attempts to play to this very obvious strength. The action is generally well-shot, the Antarctic imagery is striking and the acting is passable, even convincing at times.
Things go off the rails with the over-the-top gratuity, which, given the modern horror landscape, probably should have been anticipated. When it comes to the film’s moments of actual violence, absolutely nothing is left to the imagination, ultimately diminishing the effect that they could have had were things implied rather than spelled out in disturbing detail.
I did not, for instance, need to see someone’s face disintegrating in real time in order to be properly scared. To be honest, the most powerful moments are those in which bone-headed brutality is eschewed for moments of terse, muted tension between the central characters.
Such moments make it all the more devastating when said characters ultimately meet their end. In this respect, the movie succeeds; the problem, sadly, is that moments like these are few and far between.
What, then, are we to learn from The Thing? Well, if most of my sentiments thus far have been any indication, you shouldn’t expect much. As it stands, The Thing represents a discouragingly standard foray into the modern, ultra-graphic horror genre.
Though it is not without its strong points, it ultimately falls short, offering little in the way of thematic innovation or departures from the trusted modern formula of gratuitous violence and gore.