The Thing (1982)

Hypothetical Netflix Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There it is, the first 5 out of 5 movie. It’s John Carpenter at his best, but he’s not even the super star of this one. The real heart and soul of The Thing is Rob Bottin, the special effects creator and designer. The dude worked so hard on this movie, he had to be hospitalized. He’d sleep on the set at night. This guy lived, breathed, and shat The Thing from pre-production till wrap and the reward? Some of the best creature effects ever filmed.

The film, for those who aren’t in the know, follows a group of “scientist” studying “something” in Antarctica. I say “scientist” in quotes because these gentlemen don’t come off as scientist, save for like 3 of the 12 guys. I say “something” in quotes because who gives a shit what they went down there to study, they find an alien. But not just any alien. This alien is a shape-shifter able to perfectly mimic any living organism.

This is Kurt Russell’s (MacReady) second of four film with John Carpenter: his first was Escape from New York(1981), the other two were Big Trouble in Little China(1986) and Escape from L.A.(1996). This is Keith David’s (Childs) first out of two movies with John Carpenter, the second being 1988’s They Live. If you haven’t seen this film yet, please do, then came back and finish the article.

Still with me? Good. Spoilers to come.

One of the things that I really enjoy about this movie is the way that Carpenter build paranoia through isolation. Because none of the characters know for sure who’s a thing and who isn’t, they obviously don’t trust each other which means they tend to go off on their own. But that’s when the thing gets you; when you’re alone, so it adds to the audience’s paranoia. Example.

MacReady has spent most of the movie in the company of others. We see scenes of him flying with others, talking with others, investigating the thing with others. You get the idea, he’s almost never alone. Keith David’s Childs on the other hand, isn’t the narrative focus so the only time you see him is in large group settings, but the film makes a point to show that he spends time alone. By movies end, when we see the two sitting across from one another, you can see MacReady’s breath, but you can’t see Childs.

Childs is a thing. MacReady isn’t. MacReady totally dies once the credits start rolling.

This is all in the mind of the viewer. Most of this movie is in the mind of the viewer. When a character turns, there’s not a waving flag, just subtle clues that you have to watch out for; for example when MacReady asks Norris (Charles Hallahan) to take charge, he declines after a short pause. Next scene, you find out he’s a thing. Childs doesn’t turn until the others leave him alone after the blood test scene, which is way some might still think he’s human. Long story short, this is a movie that demands being re-watched.

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