The Thing (2011) The Thing Anthology Part III

thing

We are in a constant state of ever expanding cinematic universes. Successful standalone films are few and far between these days, once something is found to be profitable, it only makes sense to milk that cash cow dry, critics and fans be hanged! If it makes money, you continue to grow the franchise, it’s the way Hollywood has been working. So, it came as no real surprise that in 2011 we were “treated” to a prequel to a very successful (and my personal favorite) sci-fi horror film from the 80’s. The Thing  replicated the same title as the 1980s iteration; an oddly appropriate move given the nature of the monster in the series. The Thing (2011) is the third installment in this quasi-franchise. It started with The Thing From Another World  in 1951, was remade in 31 years later with The Thing (1982) and a prequel to that film leaves us with what is now somewhat of a period piece of a 1980s scientific expedition gone awry. Maybe in 30 more years we’ll get a proper sequel, but I hope not.

The Thing doesn’t pluck it’s story from thin air, but actually has a very appropriate starting point. In the 1982 version, the scientists stumble upon a destroyed Norwegian camp and one huge spaceship encased in the antarctic ice. The Thing (2011) tells the story of just what happened at that Norwegian camp. While we know the events are probably very similar to the horrors that unfolded in the original film, we didn’t know the exact details until this film came out. Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is hired to aid the in the retrieval of an alien spaceship and life form that has been frozen for many millennia. To their horror, the life form is not only alive, but wanting to feed. In standard Thing fashion, it proceeds to eat and replicate the motley crew of scientists in the most horrific and gross ways possible. Paranoia and terror run rampant as the isolated group must attempt to sift the “thing” from the humans before it reaches the general population of the world.

While the plot is virtually indistinguishable from John Carpenter’s classic, they manage to throw in a few original ideas that work really well, and of course there are plenty of jump scenes. I especially liked the way they were able to distinguish the humans from the monster in this film. Without giving it away, it was completely different from the last film, but made complete sense in the scope of the universe. The acting was actually pretty top notch, Joel Edgerton in particular did a pretty great job as the American helicopter pilot, channeling Kurt Russell quite well while still managing to be his own character. It was spooky, it was fun but it wasn’t great. While The Thing (1982) was one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, this iteration lacked the claustrophobia and grit that it took to really leave the audience unsettled. The CGI, in particular couldn’t compare to the practical effects used in the 80s in it’s ability to make me queasy. The atmosphere managed to be more comforting as well. The original film used the environment, the dark and the cramped base to make you feel utterly unsafe the whole movie. The base in this film seemed much larger, the weather tamer and the thing itself was far more tangible than it was when it attacked the American base. Instead of revealing it’s monster form only while transforming or going in for the kill, the monster would hunt in the form of a mass of flesh and bones, crawling around on all fours while it actively searched for other people to kill. What made John Carpenter’s Thing so frightening was how it would try to get away unless it was threatened. It would do anything to get away from prying eyes and transform into human form, then try to trick the others.

This was a fun prequel that took new approaches to the similar storyline presented 30 years prior. With a fresh new cast and take on the cinematic legend, The Thing (2011) managed to give some mild scares and some genuinely suspenseful moments. Where it falls short is in it’s presentation of the monster itself. What was an intangible horror is reduced to something that looks like it hopped out of the latest Men in Black movie; also the fact that it’s atmosphere was not the proper material you need to conduct the type of horror that made The Thing as truly horrific as it was.

Part 1 Part 2

 

 

Primer

 Primer

Movies like Primer are a rare commodity in the world of film. With a budget of $7000, Shane Carruth wrote, directed and starred in a unique piece of Sci-fi that garnished respect from viewers and critics alike. Found in the “Thriller” section of Netflix, it boasts an incredibly complex story that caused me to pause the film multiple times in an attempt to grasp what on earth was going on. It’s not that the movie didn’t make sense, it’s simply that it was pretty complex, which was half of the fun. Trust and fate tend to be fairly common themes in film, especially science fiction, however this made-at-home approach to them forgoes the grandeur of the space operas and action packed counterparts for something that felt much closer to home.

We’re introduced in the opening scene to a group of four friends who have started a business they run on nights and weekends making error-checking devices. As they discuss the future of their business and what project they should tackle next, it becomes apparent that not everyone is optimistic with the direction their taking. Two of the friends decide to work separately and secretly on another project that reduces the weight of object. Abe (David Sullivan) and Aaron (Shane Carruth) continue discover strange anomalies associated with this new device. The more they learn about the possibilities, the deeper the pool of possibilities becomes. What starts out as a solid friendship soon devolves into a competitive struggle for power, with consequences more dire than either could have imagined at the start of their venture.

     Primer is a hard movie to follow. I don’t want to give anything away, because the revelation of what’s going on is half the fun. The audience is put in the same shoes as Abe and Aaron on their path to discovery, the wonder of a groundbreaking scientific discovery is shared between the characters on the screen and the audience in their seats. The movie is fascinating, but it’s not without its faults. First is the fact of the budget. With only $7000, we don’t get the polished mega blockbuster with the Hollywood sheen. Rather this movie feels like a home movie, something that could have been whipped up by a couple buddies over weekends…which essentially it was. The sound has issues in some parts, and the lighting faces similar challenges. Some of the acting is unconvincing, but not to the point where it becomes unbearable. The other obstacle is the complexity of the movie. I’ve seen this movie twice in my life, and have read various articles and seen graphs explaining what happened to me. This will be a huge turn off to some people.

While it’s shortcomings are substantial, the story and dialogue more than make up for them. The film is absolutely fascinating to watch, and honestly, if a movie is smart and capable of holding your attention and causes you to think while entertaining you, I think it was a success. Primer fore-goes fancy looking effects for a smart premise with well constructed scenes and dialogue to fuel it’s momentum. This is done out of sheer necessity, and it’s what has caused this movie to stand out against the odds.

Attack The Block

Writer/director Joe Cornish tries his hand at an alien invasion flick in 2011’s Attack the Block. We’re shown an invasion unfold before a teenaged gang in south London who quickly decide to defend their “block” a large apartment building in which they all reside. Instead of dealing with aliens with full scale warfare or secret services dealing with them, we’re given something different in that this movie is basically one big turf war between wolf-like extraterrestrials and a group of thugs. It’s quickly realized that the norm of this alien sub-genre is quickly traded for something unfamiliar, which is what makes Attack the Block as fun as it is.
I should note that I had a hard time sympathizing with the main characters of the film. Within the first scene the group of unruly teenagers mugs a woman in the street at knife point. She is unharmed and, as the movie progresses, becomes their ally. A clear point is made that these kids are not good kids, but their “true selves” as the movie would have us believe will shine through when it comes to protecting their own and defending their block. Even as the movie progressed and the characters became more and more sympathetic, it was hard to completely side with them. This didn’t mean that the movie wasn’t fun, on the contrary, it was a blast! Seeing a group of teenagers defend themselves against a highly aggressive, yet unintelligent race of aliens in a suburban setting is something that you don’t see every day, and Cornish certainly gives us amped up entertainment with plenty of action, violence and character.
The characters, though unlikable at times (read: often) are engaging and interesting. The fighting tactics of both sides is crude, with the aliens clearly being more agile and strong than the humans. The advantage that the gang has, however is that they all grew up on the block, they know it like the back of your hand. The movie plays out in the same manner that you may have imagined your friends defending your neighborhood from aliens growing up. Bikes, baseball bats and squirt guns filled with lighter fluid. The director certainly knows his way around the action/comedy genre and he gives the audience plenty to look at and get excited about.
This isn’t the most thought provoking Sci-Fi to come out this decade, nor is it one of the best, but what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in pure entertainment value. While not the deepest Sci-Fi to come along, Attack the Block shows real production value in the hands of a film maker who clearly knows what he wanted to portray and how to portray it.