The Thing

The Thing ★★★★

Sure, it's a horror film, and its special effects are rightly one of, if not, THE selling point of the film, but where I found The Thing most powerful, most impressive, was the paranoia it portrayed between the characters. The suspicion - not just that one of them is an alien freak, but that they themselves might be the horror and not know it - is certainly one it does better than the only other comparably exceptional horror/sci-fi film I can think of; Alien. It harkens back to the previous adaptation's delightfully allegorical terror of Communism and the McCarthy-esque fear that it could be hiding right under our noses. In fact, taken at face value, The Thing is a superbly well-made monster movie; but add that subtext of paranoia and mutually-assured destruction (skillfully subtle and never outright correlated) and it could even be argued to be the richer film (although I still prefer the claustrophobia and creature design of Scott's picture).

Another thing The Thing does right is character development. It boggles the mind to realize how many stars are in the feature, given the isolated nature of the setting. Not only does this allow a plethora of creative deaths to enforce the genre appeal, but each is given a virtually unbiased approach. They are all simply flawed humans; none are villains (although, sadly, Keith David comes close to that characterization a few times), and all are developed without too much archetyping or stereotyping (at least less so than most other films of the genre). This enhances the emotional impact of the paranoia element, as Carpenter not only prevents the characters from having an easy mark on the next iteration of the creature, but he denies the audience any presupposition as well.

So: fantastically balanced characters, inventive special effects, and a delicious subtext - The Thing is rightfully praised as one of the greatest of the genre. While I agree with the mighty Steve that Morricone's score was a little disappointing (if only for the bar he'd previously raised with me throughout Leone's films), there is little else I can find to criticize here. And even though I've been jaded enough not to find the film 'scary' per se, that doesn't detract from its construction and evocative mood. Carpenter gets this one right, and not only is it a well-made movie with its allegorical time capsule and excellent performances, it holds up after all the years, just like Scott's effort, to be as entertaining today as I'd imagine it was over 30 years ago.

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