IN 1982, John Carpenter directed the science-fiction horror The Thing, which imagined a violent battle between humans and a parasitic life form with the ability to clone its prey.
Released at the same time as Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which provided a cheerier close encounter with aliens, Carpenter’s film failed to set alight the box office, but subsequently gained a cult following on video.
Dutch film-maker Matthijs van Heijningen Jr hopes for greater success with this prequel to the 1982 picture, which is also – bemusingly – a remake of its more accomplished and scarier predecessor.
Opening with the old Universal Pictures logo as a nod to the Carpenter version, The Thing unfolds predominantly in Antarctica, where an alien beastie runs amok, slaughtering most of the cast.
While van Heijningen Jr’s film has a higher body count and lashings of gore, the prequel lacks suffocating tension, visual invention and skin-crawling scares that distinguished the earlier picture.
Crucially, we second-guess screenwriter Eric Heisserer, correctly anticipating the twists and turns before the inevitable final showdown.
Medical officer Dr Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) and research assistant Adam Finch (Eric Christian Olsen) invite palaeontologist Dr Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to join them at a dig close to the South Pole.
“There’s a structure and a specimen. That’s all I can tell you,” says Adam enigmatically.
Kate joins the expedition under station commander Edvard Wolner (Trond Espen Seim), who eventually reveals a crash-landed alien craft and the corpse of a creature entombed in the ice.
Halvorson resolves to harvest a sample of the creature’s DNA.
Sure enough, the creature goes on the rampage.
“This thing can and probably has replicated a person,” warns Kate, looking nervously at helicopter pilot Sam Carter (Joel Edgerton), co-pilot Derek Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), French geologist Juliette (Kim Bubbs) or Norwegian dog keeper Lars (Jorgen Langhelle).
Paranoia turns the team members against one another and Kate dons a flamethrower to fight the otherworldly terror with fire.
The Thing is a competent amalgamation of past and present, fusing 21st century make-up and digital effects with a storyline that dovetails neatly with Carpenter’s blood-soaked expedition.
Van Heijningen Jr confidently orchestrates the set pieces, but there’s no palpable suspense and we can guess the survivors at each juncture, and who will be revealed as the next alien doppelganger.
Winstead is a plucky heroine cast in the mould of Ripley from the Alien films, but she’s two-dimensional like the other denizens of the base, not least Ulrich as the pantomime villain.