That classic “creature feature” “The Thing” earns its third treatment with a film that’s so enthralled with its actual “thing” that it forgets to be scary or suspenseful. A decent cast and a pristine glacial setting are wasted on a movie of alien transmutations and alien dissections that lacks urgency, or even a sense that’s its very cold in Antarctica.
The Norwegians have found something Down There — beneath the ice. And they want to keep it secret. So they drag a t0o-young American paleontologist (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) with a bit of experience dealing with ancient frozen corpses and a few other folks in to figure out what it was that crawled out from that gigantic saucer that’s buried under 100,000 years worth of glacial ice.
The Norwegians, led by the arrogant Dr. Dr. Halvorsen (Ulrich Thomsen) smell a Nobel prize in this discovery, “our visitor.” Keep it quiet. No radio contact with other bases on the frozen continent, even though there’s a storm coming in. The Americans — Kate Lloyd (Winstead) and the helicopter pilots, Carter (Joel Edgerton) and Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) are instantly wary.
Something big, with claws, is carved from the ice. And before you can say “You don’t know what you’re dealing with” it’s out, and before you can say “We will search in groups of two or three,” it’s preying on the “We must study it” Norwegians and the trigger happy Americans.
Here’s what works in Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s version of the thrice-told tale, which they’re calling a prequel. The location, what they use of it (British Columbia and frozen corners of Canada), is stunning. The effects — a shape shifting creature of teeth and tentacles and every human-faced crab-critter of recent movie vintage — are on the money. The Norwegians are an amusing bunch, profane in English and in subtitled Norwegian.
And hats off to Winstead (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) for her wide-eyed reaction and breathless alarm at this beast and their peril.
But it’s an infuriatingly static picture — actors walking around when they should be running, ruminating when they should be panicking, generally failing to convey fear and pick up the pace. That’s the director’s fault. Empathy for characters doesn’t build, nor does the paranoia Winstead’s character keeps putting into words. This alien can take on the form of its victims, so they don’t know who is real and who isn’t.
Forget the obvious foreshadowing, the “logic” of an Antarctic base full of flamethrowers and grenades (no improvising a defense against this monster). Try to forget the earlier, superior versions of the tale. This “Thing” still doesn’t deliver much more than the odd jolt or provoke any praise other than “Cool effects.”
MPAA Rating: R for strong creature violence and gore, disturbing images, and language
Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Running time: 1:42