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RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
• Behind the Scenes Documentary
• Ghost House Micro Video featuring Winds of Plague
• Trailer Gallery
John Carpenter’s The Thing, but with a cast of twenty-somethings and an abominable bleach blonde Val Kilmer.
Martha MacIsaac. Aaron Ashmore. Kyle Schmid. Steph Song. Val “Huckleberry” Kilmer.
Kind folks Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, formerly wunderkind director-producer team responsible for the Evil Dead films turned producers of teen-slanted horror flicks, deliver a semi-remake of The Thing with a new emphasis on a heavy-handed environmental message.
But with the pull of Val “I survived the bank robbery in Heat” Kilmer, the package sure looks tempting for straight-to-shelf fare.
If you’ve made it this far into my review, you’ll be quite familiar with the fact that Mark A. Lewis’ The Thaw is heavily indebted to John Carpenter’s seminal piece of science fiction horror, right down to its isolated northern setting, abundance of helicopter shots, a distress call from a research team and a health dose of body horror. While not a beat for beat rip-off (the “antagonists” of the film are quite different than that of The Thing), there are enough of the same elements in place that it’s hard to deny there’s at least homage being paid.
The Thaw strives in these similarities and crumbles in most of its differences. Whereas The Thing, although shot on soundstages, feels entirely like the work of a crew that was out in the frigid shit and in a real research facility, Lewis’ film suffers from low-budget blandness in environments and characters. Isolation, rather than feeling oppressive and haunting, feels rather boring here.
Lewis’ script (co-written with maybe-brother Michael W. Lewis) also suffers from the mistake of frontloading every character with ambiguous, heavy dialogue that assures the audience that they have deep issues with each other, but we’re not sure exactly what. Kilmer’s character Dr. David Kruipen is having some sort of issues with his daughter Evelyn (Martha MacIsaac, most recognizable from Superbad) over either Evelyn’s mother or his environmentalist agenda. Aaron Ashmore’s budding researcher clashes with Evelyn because he admires her father’s past of eco-terrorism. And then they fall in love, I guess.
The Thing had characters that unfolded naturally in their environment, without the burden of baggage; we meet the characters and learn about them through their actions and arguments. Every character here comes with sexual history or an unnecessarily dark past, to make everything seem twice as grave as it needs to be.
And then there’s the horror aspect of the story, which is embedded in a very unsubtle message about the dangers of global warming. You see, global warming has unfrozen an ancient mammoth (still complete with fur!) that is host to a breed of insects that lay their eggs in warm flesh and destroy your immune system. It’d be one thing if we had a true-blue horror film that hinges upon global warming, but when all of your ecological conflict and dialogue essentially functions as a defrosting mechanism, you’ve thoroughly wasted our time.
And I know I sound like a broken record, here, but The Thing wove a message about the AIDS epidemic into its fabric without ever mentioning such a thing in its dialogue. It can be done.
There’s certainly some positive aspects of the film though — Kilmer’s opening monologue, while as vague as the rest of the dialogue in the film, is particularly haunting, and the performances throughout the film are actually uniformly good. The Thaw does the same thing Starship Troopers 3 does though, by confining its only star with any sort of audience draw to his own scenes, probably due to the fact that Kilmer was only on set for a few days. As a result, he and his daughter only interact on the screen once in 94 minutes.
I also dig the hell out of the Youtube-themed opening credit sequence, and despite the fact that it’s poorly implemented, the ecological framework of the movie at the very least peaked my interests throughout. Not a total waste of time, but not a brilliant use of it, either.
The Thaw is part of Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert’s Ghost House Underground label, which is essentially churning out a series of low-budget horror films by new filmmakers. This means the primary special feature on the disc is an onslaught of trailers for the other flicks in this series.
Also on the disc is a perfunctory behind the scenes documentary that doesn’t have too much going for it. Like the feature itself, The Thaw’s package is underwhelming at best.