I’ve never liked classics. In high school I would rage against reading Shakespeare, Hawthorne, and basically everything else that wasn’t a good fantasy novel. I found “classics” boring, stodgy, and pretty dry. Maybe I have no taste. I don’t know.
The Thing kind of struck me in a similar way. It’s an alien horror film that follows a group of scientists studying [something] in Antartica, who stumble upon a shape-shifting monster who’s face explodes when it eats you. This is my review.
The Thing was definitely a movie that was shot in the 1980s. It’s long, drawn out landscape scenes static shots are telltale of a time when movies were less about cool visual effects and more about really trying to ground the viewer in the setting. The key word here is trying. Many times throughout the movie, mostly during establishing shots, I found myself thinking “ok, we get it, there is a lot of snow.” Part of this, we can attribute to the fact that editors didn’t have computer generated scenes and interactive digital landscapes to put in their movies, all of it was dependent on the weather of the location (or stage). However, The Thing also gives an insight to how movies have been developed. If a good editor got ahold of The Thing today and was given instructions to “tighten the film up,” I believe that there is a good 10-20 minutes that could be cut out, just in establishing shots, scenes that were held for too long, irrelevant information, etc.
Much like Alien, I could not pinpoint exactly who the main character of the film was for at least a good 10-20 minutes. As a writer, this bothered me immensely. I want to be won over by the characters, I want to see who they are and what makes them tick and what their flaws are. Not everything, but at least a hint, a glimpse. By the end of the film, I still didn’t know who was who (or even which name belonged to each character).
I have to say, that if this film were a book, I probably would have put it down after the first chapter or so, because, well, nothing really happens. We don’t see the shape of the story until about halfway through the movie when they bring the Alien back to their camp. “Start as close to the climax as you can,” they told me. Unfortunately, The Thing does not do this.
I’m coming to realize that I don’t like monster horror, and I think that’s because the plot line is so focused on gore and guts spewing out. This semester largely seems like a huge competition of “who can make the most blood and guts happen in their work.” Well, congrats, Horror, you’re all winning, but I still care about as much as I care about 4k Ultra Tvs or a cure for Feline Dementia–not at all. The reason for this, however, is something that I have spoken to a lot this semester. Gore without character development, without feeling the characters’ psychological pain and destress, is just red dye on my television. All of those people who died in The Thing left me profoundly unmoved for any of them. This is why shows like The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones appeal to me so much. They couple gore and guts with real, psychological distress. In horror–no–in any genre, when the author cuts the character, the reader needs to bleed, or else the story is a failure.
That being said, if you like blood, guts, and gore for the sake of blood, guts, and gore, then sure. A+ for The Thing. Plenty of flamethrowers, explosions, limbs, things consuming other things, and heads exploding.
Despite everything above, despite the long-winded rant on horror, and despite how little I felt for the characters, The Thing held my attention the entire way through. I wouldn’t say I was glued to the screen, but it was mildly entertaining at least, though I didn’t really feel any suspense or compulsion to keep watching. Who needs thematic depth anyway? Isn’t that for indie films and pretentious literary writers?
So in conclusion: The Thing was not a “bad” movie, in my opinion. It’s what you would expect a 1980s horror film to be like. I recognize that a lot of my issues with it come from the genre itself and not the interpretation on the screen. That being said, points were docked for poor characters and long-winded shots. It wasn’t the worst movie ever, not by half, but it certainly wasn’t the best.