Latest 'Thing' serves up genre cliches on ice

The thing about "The Thing" is that even an unnecessary remake can claim your attention. Amonster from outer space attacking scientists at an Antarctic outpost has a way of doing that.

Following in the alien footprints of the 1951 and 1982 versions, this remake emphasizes the bleak isolation that turns human beings into an endangered species. Of course, these particular humans often behave in such foolish ways that an argument could be made on behalf of the alien determined to eliminate this inferior life form.

Just consider what happens very early in the movie when the supposedly sophisticated scientists discover the remains of a huge spaceship buried in the ice. The truly exciting aspect of their discovery is that an alien occupant of that spaceship has been frozen solid for thousands of years.

The script is hasty and vague as to why these scientists do not inform civilian or military authorities about their amazing find. In any event, they decide to surreptitiously carry out the excavation and autopsy on their own.

This is where things get unintentionally funny in "The Thing." While the frozen alien thaws out in an obviously melting block of ice in a laboratory back at their camp, the thrilled scientists drink booze and generally have a boisterous party in a nearby room. This doesn't bode well for them as that block of ice melts.

For that matter, their earliest probings of the alien are done without benefit of gloves, masks or any of the other precautionary measures you would expect scientists to make use of when examining tissue samples. Even if the frozen whatever-it-is remains as dead as dead can be, who knows what malicious microbes could be unleashed?

Only one of the scientists raises questions about the matter. To her credit, Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a conscientious American paleontologist who realizes that the team is not adhering to sound procedures. Kate is brainy, beautiful, and ultimately proficient in hand-to-claw combat with an alien. It's not giving anything away within an alien action-thriller to observe that such female protagonists often hold their own against any man ormonster.

Indeed, men in this movie include some monstrous specimens. Although she's outranked when it comes to the chain of command, Kate is savvy enough to ensure that she's not consumed in another sort of food chain that's established when the revived alien makes it clear that it has been thousands of years since its last meal.

This nasty creature also has the bad habit of burrowing beneath the skin of unsuspecting humans and then bursting out at the most impolite moments. You may find yourself thinking about the famous chest-bursting scene in the original "Alien."

As a huge storm heads toward the camp, it seems like the scientists don't stand a snowball's chance in you-know-where. Looking at each other, they're initially not sure which among them might be harboring the monster just beneath the skin.

This unbearable uncertainty escalates in a scientific community that's already on edge owing to its socially unstable mix of American, Norwegian and Australian scientists. They never really got along very well before, and now they spend as much time fighting each other as they do fighting the monster.

Although these are overly familiar elements in a horror movie, director Matthijs van Heijningen's debut feature is an assured example of how to deliver thrills and, er, chills. It's pretty scary and really gross. When Kate goes after the alien with a flamethrower, you may want to avert your eyes from the resulting barbecue. Grade: B. "The Thing" (R) is now playing at area theaters.

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