Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr revisits the frosty arctic-extraterrestrial territory John Carpenter memorably splattered with blood, gore and a good dollop of psychological intensity in his 1982 classic The Thing.

Both films are adaptations of John W. Campbell Jr’s short story ‘Who Goes There?’, with van Heijningen Jr’s cheekily billed as a prequel to Carpenter’s. Those who remember the original will spot the obvious a mile away — that, irrespective of the looping plot structure that syncs this The Thing with the ’82 version — van Heijningen Jr’s is a remake through and through.

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The premise is that a small community of scientists and researchers are trapped in sub-zero no-where with a shapeshifting alien force that slinks inside them and pretends to be human, until it explodes in bursts of violence to the tune of horrendous otherworldly yelps and clanging pans on the soundtrack.

Anybody can be an alien at any time, meaning nobody can be trusted. When the monster opts to reveal itself it appears as horrible cross-species mutations: deformed Human Centipede-esque freak-a-me-bobs uglier than a singed Ralph Steadman sketchpad smeared in blood and faeces.

The Kurt Russell character has been reassigned to Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who works the part well, ditching Russell’s chewing rocks coarseness for a sensible if a shade placid approach. Power dynamic shifts between the characters, a mixture of Norwegian researchers and Americans, and the power to-ing and fro-ing is the crux of the film’s sustained tension.

Composer Marco Beltrami’s score (he also scored Red Eye, the entire Scream series and The Hurt Locker) is top notch, feeding the film’s atmosphere with chilling musical bombast. The soundtrack over the film’s end credits has a distinctly Hitchockian vibe.

Unsurprisingly, van Heijningen Jr’s remake has less suspense and loads up on more gore than Carptenter’s film, which was more contained. This The Thing is faster, unrolls its SFX quicker, and would have generated more intensity if it had kept the curtain closed on the beast for longer. But, crucially, it still captures a compelling level of psychological energy, and like Carpenter’s film ends on a morbid high.

The Thing’s Australian theatrical release date: October 13, 2011.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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