The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Thing
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is definitely going to need that flamethrower.

There's a difference between gore and splatter. Gore is realistic; splatter is over the top. Gore turns your stomach; splatter makes you laugh about the fact that it's turning your stomach. Gore is nasty; splatter is fun. I grew up watching splatter movies. They were fun, icky, and delightfully perverse. They relied more on creative uses of makeup and prosthetics than on mere fake blood. I used to look at Fangoria magazine and marvel at the hypnotically gross effects and creatures created for movies. You don't get a lot of splatter anymore. Filmmakers today seem more obsessed with gore and its cohort, carnage. I like The Thing because it's got that good old-fashioned feel. Some really disgusting things happen to people in this movie, but they're the fun kind of disgusting that I love. The movie is a prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 film, which was a remake of 1951's The Thing From Another World. I saw Carpenter's beloved flick back in the day, although I don't remember anything about it. Hardcore fans of that movie may find things to gripe about by comparing the two. Difficult to say. I just know that I had a good time.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate Lloyd, a young paleontologist brought to an Antarctic research facility after a vessel and some kind of alien life-form are found encased in ice. The scientist in charge, Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), insists on taking a sample of the frozen being's tissue before allowing Kate to do her work. This turns out to be a very bad idea, because the creature busts out of the ice block and starts assaulting people. Kate discovers that it can genetically take over the body of anyone it attacks. This means that it could theoretically be mimicking anybody on the research base. (Oh, who are we kidding? It's totally doing that!) None of them can be trusted, because every so often, the Thing bursts violently out of what appears to be a normal human body. With everyone under suspicion, the group has to find a way to identify who is real and who may not be, so that they can kill the Thing and get out of Antarctica alive.

The primary selling point of The Thing is the large number of grossout moments it contains. The creature doesn't just pop of out people's chests like the one in Alien did. No, it wreaks havoc with their bodies, ripping them open from within so that tentacles and gnarly teeth can emerge. Unlike a lot of modern monster movies, these moments actually jolted me here. Director Matthijs van Heijninger, Jr. finds ways to catch you off guard and to maximize the shock value. Every time the Thing goes berserk, it's jarring, intense, and it kind of pumped me up. I felt the sort of old-school thrill I felt as a teenager, taking in hideous sights created by Hollywood effects teams. Yes, new-fangled CGI is employed instead of the vintage makeup and prosthetics, but the overall effect was the same for me. The Thing is imaginatively splatter-y, which kept me hooked.

It's fair to say that, for the most part, the movie fails to maximize the paranoia inherent in its premise, which is its biggest flaw. There's one really great scene in which Kate improvises a way to tell who might be the creature in hiding, much to the chagrin of several colleagues. Other than that, it really doesn't deliver the type of continual dread that might have made it a top-tier entry in the horror genre. The movie rattles your nerves when the Thing strikes; not so much in between those times.

That was okay for me, though. The actors (including Warrior's Joel Edgerton) are pretty good in their roles, and the movie is beautifully photographed and tightly edited. The Thing works as a monster movie. It has a creature that does sufficiently hideous stuff. The whole design of the film has an enjoyable Wait until you see how we're going to gross you out next! vibe to it. The splatter is good. If this is your sort of thing and, by George, it's mine you just might have a blast watching The Thing. I sure did.

( out of four)

The Thing is rated R for strong creature violence and gore, disturbing images, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.