The Timelessness Of The Thing (1982)

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The Timelessness Of The Thing (1982)

May contain SPOILERS!

Thanks to your website design agency, you can take a break from your website building routine for the time being. If there is a movie to get yourself lost into, it is The Thing.

40 years after its release, The Thing is still revered as a fantastic alien horror film to this day, which is wonderful when you compare it to its contemporary reception at its days upon its release. It was stomped on by critics like policemen in a student protest so hard that it almost killed the director, John Carpenter’s, career.

John Carpenter said that The Thing was machine gunned by hails of negative reception because it was the complete opposite of other films like ET: The Extra Terrestrial, another alien film that is adventurous, light hearted, and dramatic. Watching two films at the same time will make you feel like drinking both hot and cold water, and guess which hurts more.

The Thing is nihilistic, bleak and terrifying, and for Americans that were still in the middle of an 80s recession, it was probably miserable to watch and didn’t make them any happier. Films like ET was the light of their dark tunnels, and The Thing was but an abyss.

Ever since people have reassessed The Thing in later years, there have been several analyses of the film’s themes and symbolisms. But I won’t really get into those, instead I will be straightforward and look into elements from the film to see what makes it a timeless masterpiece today.

The Alien

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The premise of The Thing is a team of American researchers terrorized by the titular alien that can shift into and imitate life forms including dogs and humans, and they have to stop it before it can assimilate every crew and spread to the Earth in spring upon pickup.

The Thing’s true form is never onscreen and even when we see a UFO crashing into the Arctic in the intro, it is possible that the alien pilot was a different species assimilated by the Thing so the latter can take control of the ship. Its only goal in life is mere survival. Find another life form, assimilate, imitate, and repeat until nothing is left to stop it.

What makes The Thing a formidable and effective antagonist is its intelligence. It knows that transforming into its monstrous form is dumb and would only result in suicide, likely because its foes would already be guarded at the time. It remains inside and lives like its host, going about their lives until it finds the chance to assimilate another life form with another of itself (the Thing can be more than one cellular organism). Only when it has no choice but to retaliate or escape will it transform.

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Furthermore, the Thing’s monstrous appearances are grotesque and visceral in a good way. One of the highlights of the film is its practical special effects, especially the impressive monster designs. The blood and pus leaking out of its flesh. The details of their insides. The teeth.

Every monster that the alien morphs into is entirely different from the other, and their respective sound designs enhance their appearances too. Sometimes their roars are a collective scream of every life form that it assimilated in its lifespan if you listen closely.

The special effects hold up very well to this age, and even when the film was panned by critics at its time, some praised the effects, though they criticized the violence and the Thing’s disgusting appearance. 

Despite the Thing’s capabilities and active role in the film, the alien itself is not the biggest antagonist in scale. If anything, it takes the middle seat of the theatre to make room for the bigger danger in the front seat, front row center: humanity.

Paranoia

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Paranoia and the human characters themselves are the central danger of the film. Nobody fully trusts each other, because none are sure whether any of them were infected and currently imitated by the Thing. If you already know its intelligence, you know that detection is not easy.

Plus, would you risk killing one of your mates only to find that they are still human all along?

You can remove the alien entirely from the film and it would still be an effective horror film. If you want to go far, you could say that behind the scenes, the true nature is that they were hallucinating about a non-existent extraterrestrial and killed each other over it. But that is surely just a theory.

What also sells the paranoia theme is that you as the audience cannot trust any of the characters too, because except for one scene, the film never really shows who were already assimilated until the Thing reveals itself. 

Two characters were actually already assimilated earlier in the film since the Thing’s first monstrous appearance and the recovery of a Thing corpse, but you do not know that because the imitations were moving on as if nothing happened to them. There are hints that you could catch if you pay attention, but that was it.

Fear is our defensive mechanism, but it is also harmful to ourselves and others, because we are so wary of dangers that we start to perceive anything as a potential threat. The longer this occurs, the further our judgement becomes clouded to the point where we lose reason and just start a havoc to save ourselves.

Though the characters are getting on the brink of destroying themselves, it is impressive that they still manage to hold themselves together and keep looking out for the Thing, remaining alive until the Thing gets to them. Only one death was caused by another human because he was about to attack the other.

Conclusion

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The Thing is a movie I will recommend to no end if somebody asks for a good horror movie. The special effects are disgusting but fantastic, the characters are well written as average joes that are paranoid yet still do not fall for any stupidity suffered by bad horror movie characters, the premise is simple, and the location is singular, which gives the film a much easier focus.

The Thing is one of the few films that deserves a perfect 10/10 or to make it easier, a 5/5. I lost count the times I watched it and so far, I find no flaws to pick on.