That classic "creature feature" The Thing earns its third treatment with a film that forgets to be scary or suspenseful.
A decent cast and a pristine glacial setting are wasted on a movie of alien transmutations and dissections that lacks urgency, or even a sense that's it's cold in Antarctica.
The Norwegians found something beneath the ice and want to keep it secret. They drag in a too-young American paleontologist, Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and a few other folks with a bit of experience dealing with ancient frozen corpses to figure out what crawled out from a gigantic saucer that's buried under 100,000 years' worth of glacial ice.
The Norwegians, led by arrogant Dr. Halvorsen (Ulrich Thomsen), smell a Nobel Prize in this discovery, "our visitor." Keep it quiet. No radio contact with other bases on the frozen continent, even though there's a storm coming. The Americans — Kate and the helicopter pilots, Carter (Joel Edgerton) and Jameson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) — are instantly wary.
Something big, with claws, is carved from the ice. And before you can say, "You don't know what you're dealing with," it's out, and before you can say, "We will search in groups of two or three," it's preying on the "we must study it" Norwegians and the trigger-happy Americans.
Here's what works in Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.'s version of the thrice-told tale, which they're calling a prequel. The location, what they use of it (British Columbia and frozen corners of Canada), is stunning. The effects — a shape- shifting creature of teeth, tentacles and every human-faced crab-critter of recent movie vintage — are on the money. The Norwegians are an amusing bunch, profane in English and in subtitled Norwegian. And hats off to Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) for her wide-eyed reaction and breathless alarm at this beast and the attendant peril.
But it's an infuriatingly static picture — actors walking around when they should be running, ruminating when they should be panicking, generally failing to convey fear and pick up the pace. That's the director's fault. Empathy for characters doesn't build, and neither does the paranoia Winstead's character keeps putting into words. This alien can take on the form of its victims, so they don't know who is real and who isn't.
Forget the obvious foreshadowing, the "logic" of an Antarctic base full of flamethrowers and grenades. Try to forget the earlier, superior versions of the tale (in 1951 and then in former Kentuckian John Carpenter's remake in 1982). This Thing doesn't deliver much more than the odd jolt or provoke any praise, other than "cool effects."