The Thing isn’t new but it’s still scary

Film
THE THING
Cert: 15
By Stevie Martin

Revisiting one of the best-loved horror films of all time is usually a bad idea. If John Carpenter’s 1982 version passed you by, the updated prequel is a great horror film, but if you saw the original then prepare to be quite shocked by the fact it’s not terrible.

First time director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr offers a similar plot complete with spruced up alien, new riffs on famous scenes, and a look at what the Thing got up to before descending on the original film in the form of a dog that, infamously, isn’t really a dog.

Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is flown to the Antarctic by Dr Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) and shown a spaceship that crashed 100,000 years ago, as well as the frozen corpse of the extra-terrestrial that died while trying to crawl to safety. Obviously, it's not quite as dead as everyone believes with a tendency to absorb Dr Lloyd’s colleagues, replicate their bodies, live inside the replication and burst out in a flurry of bloodied tentacles at inopportune moments.

The modernised, CGI-clad Thing is a squirming mass of teeth, spines, claws and pulsating organs, and it’s nothing like you’ve seen before. Which is good, considering that’s the whole point. What’s more, with a bit of frankly disgusting alien giblet dissection involving human corpses in amniotic sacks, the genius of the alien hits home. Carpenter’s technique left enough in the shadows to maintain tension. Heijningen Jr fills enough gaps to legitimately add to the original.

Regardless of how carefully, for the most part, Heijningen Jr treads (scenes unnecessarily taking place inside the spacecraft aside) this is a remake of a film that didn’t need further explanation. Yes, it works, but the constant homage paid to Carpenter can’t help but invite comparison – and the ominous, pointed hint at the beginning, highlighting Lloyd as a woman trapped in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of Norweigan men, is never followed through. Disregard your prejudice, however, and what’s left is a great stand-alone horror film, as well a good homage to a classic that cannot be bettered.

Film
MARGARET
Cert: 15
By Amy Higgins

Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret is about the growing pains of a hyper-articulate, self-assured and typically self-involved 17-year-old New Yorker, Lisa Cohen (brilliantly played by a fresh-faced Anna Paquin). Out shopping one afternoon, she playfully distracts a bus driver, inadvertently causing him to crash and run over a pedestrian. Initially fudging the truth of the accident in order to protect the driver, Lisa is torn apart by guilt and frustration as she confronts the fuzzy moral boundaries of the adult world.

This is no ordinary coming-of-age, American high-school movie: Lonergan’s portrayal of the transition from innocence to experience is bold and unremitting. The visceral impact of the scene in which Lisa holds the blood-splattered, dying victim (who is by turns confused, hostile and terrified as she realises that she is dying) in her arms, reverberates throughout the rest of the film. It is played out in Lisa’s brutal behaviour towards those around her and towards herself, as she wrestles with the compromised morality of adult society and the realisation that justice is not always black and white. Incidentally, the Margaret of the title refers to the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem in which a child of that name mourns the passing of life.

There is a lot going on in this film, which, with a running time of 150 minutes, is still half an hour shorter than Lonergan would have liked. Several subplots feel as though they deserve to be films in their own right: Lisa’s increasingly hostile relationship with her mother (also brilliantly played by Lonergan’s wife J Cameron Smith), her mother’s relationship with an opera-loving Columbian (Jean Reno) and her sexual advances towards her geometry teacher (Matt Damon). Mired in editing difficulties and legal tussles since it was filmed in 2005, this slightly unwieldy narrative bears the scars of its fraught history. However it also mirrors and intensifies the point Lonergan is making about life; that is unwieldy, complex, imperfect – and beautiful.

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