In 2020, the world has been held hostage by an invisible enemy. Fear, anxiety, paranoia, and panic spread faster than the virus itself. Ordinary interactions suddenly were no more, and everyone seemed to be behaving in unpredictable ways. Carpenter’s film was a critical and commercial failure when it first came out and was generally perceived to be out of touch with the times—it was called too bleak and depressing. Had it come out the year of COVID-19, I’m sure it would’ve been hailed as instant classic. The most nerve-racking aspect about “The Thing” has nothing to do with the creature, but how the characters react to it.
The film takes place at Outpost 31, a remote research center stationed in Antarctica. Setting the story in the middle of nowhere is a classic horror movie trope. Think of the Overlook hotel surrounded by the Colorado wilderness in “The Shining,”; it traps characters and viewers in a confined space away from the reach of help. We see a dog dashing in a sea of whiteness, and a helicopter chasing it. The ground they cover establishes the isolated setting perfectly.
The film then cuts to the characters at Outpost 31. Nobody seems to be working, and we get the sense that they’re just coping with isolation and loneliness. Two characters are playing ping-pong, another is playing chess on a computer, and the rest are either reading magazines or listening to music individually. A few shots in, and I was already identifying with the film on different level. It took me back to those long hours of dealing with boredom under strict quarantine.
Human beings are social creatures by nature. We are not meant to deal with prolonged isolation; it directly affects our mood. A frustrated MacReady (Kurt Russell) pours his drink into the computer tower. We cut back to the Norwegians in the helicopter dropping grenades at the dog. The helicopter lands as the dog finds its way to the Americans. We see one of the Norwegians chasing the dog by foot, he reloads his gun, and yells something in Scandinavian.
Apparently, the words he yells translates to: “Get the hell outta there. That’s not a dog, it’s some sort of thing! It’s imitating a dog, it isn’t real! Get away you idiots!” I always loved this bit of trivia. Carpenter spoils the entire concept of “The Thing” within the first few minutes of his film. Of course, to those unfamiliar with the language, all we see is a madman with a gun attempting to kill a dog. The Americans take the dog in, and before you know it, all hell breaks loose. We get introduced to the most well-crafted movie monster to ever grace the screen, the thing, a shapeshifting extra-terrestrial being that can assume the shape of its victims.