The Thing Review

Untrusting and cloned, John Carpenter works The Thing as a finely tuned thriller and a consistent, murder-filled mystery. That is the downfall that kept it from reaching the highs it should have on its initial release, but the firm hand behind the camera with fixed ideas keeps it far more relevant and engaged than most of the films that tried to replicate or ruin it. But they can never touch The Thing, a perfect example of shifting tones, uneasy tensions and an ensemble coming together as they drift apart. It is the iconography and systematic devaluation of Alien and all the boxed-in horror tropes of a group of characters not knowing how to deal with a presence beyond their conception that makes it so broad and exciting.

While The Thing may have that down to a tee, it is the cast that provide the clarity such a mixture of storytelling opportunities needs. Kurt Russell and company are on fine form, with stellar performances from the whole cast as they tackle the untrusting emotions that overrun a small group of scientists posted in the middle of an iced-over hellscape. Carpenter’s formatting of this period brings great distress. It is not until the shift towards Blu-Ray that audiences will capture the real spirit, especially those who watched it on a surely pirated DVD purchased from a crumbling charity shop. Those were the days. Watching The Thing in a crisp print is a beautiful sight, and it is with that clarity that comes the understanding of Carpenter’s visual prowess.

He exudes confidence, and rightly so. When a director hits their glory years, it is easy to pinpoint the start and end. For Carpenter, it is tricky. The Thing is certainly one of many peaks for his 1980s output, but he preceded it with Assault on Precinct 13, an equally enjoyable feature that toys with the tensions and disparity of a group of uninformed individuals. They band together to stop some greater cause, and in The Thing, that cause is one another. Carpenter weaves visible distrust into the narrative, causing friction with natural ease. His naturalness is a stern reminder that his visual style is dependent on the reactions his characters have. While his visual prosthetics may be eye-wateringly brilliant, it is up to the actors to sell an audience on the terror they encapsulate. The Thing has the good graces to do so, and as the severed head scuttles across the cutting room floor, it is the response the survivors have that make the scene, not the scare itself. Just take a look at It: Chapter 2 on how easy it is to butcher such a scene, even one made as homage.

Directors will always come crawling back to the tone and sentimentality of machoism found within The Thing. Its all-male cast may be a detriment for its scoring on the Bechdel Test, but Carpenter uses the opportunity to break down the gritty action stars of old, comparing them to nothing more than scared souls who are out of their depth. These characters are out of their depth. They are not equipped for emotional strengths and decision making, because the action genre and the characters housed within it were not either. The Thing provides action heroes stripped of their burly assets, freezing away in the cold while something from beyond their remit terrorises and slays them. Carpenter uses these moments to reflect a dark, impassive group of characters who even in their worst moments refuse to come together.

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