Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Thing

Equally hilarious and horrifying, John Carpenter’s version of The Thing is on the surface a basic—but satisfying—siege thriller. The Antarctic setting makes for a nice combination of claustrophobic interiors and dreadful icy vistas—the perfect place for a group of men to be terrorized by an alien shape shifter that sometimes resembles a fleshy flytrap and other times a three-dimensional, fluid-spurting version of Picasso’s Guernica (man and beast yoked in bloody congress).

But for an inveterate ass-kicker like Carpenter—aided here by his bad-ass muse of choice, Kurt Russell—the violence in The Thing is curiously self-defeating, each attack on the creature wrecking another part of their shelter until the men are left choosing between grisly alien death or slow subzero suffering. Thank god Carpenter is such an able director of pulp thrills, because this would be unbearably dark if he wasn’t so good at coming up with amusing ways for people to have their hands severed and heads bitten off.

Sure, since the alien only attacks when you’re alone, it would seem simple to thwart it by just staying in a group, but that’s a dilemma for this anti-social film. You may need others to survive, but you can’t exactly trust them either (especially when one of them might be a face-sucking alien). So what’s a cranky individualist to do? The ending, boldly and humourously downbeat, is an acerbic rendition of this paradox. The good news is that you saved the world. The bad news is that some people survived.

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