Film versions of The Thing has graced our screens three times, seemingly coming in at the right decades when, as horror movies should, audiences see a physical manifestation of their current fears. The monster in Hawks’ 1951 adaptation is supposedly about the communist threat while Carpenter’s 1982 remake is a metaphor for AIDS, so what about this year’s version?
There are multiple lines dividing the characters but the point is that they’re divided. This prequel tells us about the scientists who discover the alien before the Yankees in Carpenter’s film. Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) appoints paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) as his right hand woman for the Norwegian base in Antarctica to study a ‘secret case.’ Let’s be cynical about Kate’s recruitment, and her own crew, the film’s screenwriters thinking that their movie needs anglophone actors for North American audiences to buy their tickets. The latent purpose of the subtitled Norwegian characters, however, teach us how to curse in their mother tongue.
Nonetheless, Sander might as well not have assigned for her, as the two scientists don’t behave as friends outside of their professional boundaries. He also vetoes her warnings about the proper ways to handle the alien within its new, above ground environment. He inadvertently awakens the alien, the latter killing off a few of the base’s crew members under the guise of its last victim. Still, some of the survivors, despite themselves, still do not believe her conclusions and methods and we can’t help but assume that her gender and age factors into their unspoken prejudices. Thankfully, Winstead confidently asserts her character despite these intimidating men.
We also have to take into account the different nationalities snowed into one roof. A subplot involves Kate’s crew members Braxton Carter (Joel Edgerton) on a botched helicopter escape from the base and getting accused of being an alien when he takes the grueling walk back. One of the Norwegians who has stayed yells something like ‘The Americans are the enemy’ which is pretty subversive. Then we can go crazy with the over-interpretations, as circumstances pit Kate and Braxton against each other. Lloyd also believes that checking teeth fillings is the way to see which one of them are the aliens, showing class divisions within the crew. Maybe this movie isn’t confident enough to lift itself from Carpenter’s shadow but the ideas are there, especially in its chilling (ha, pun!) ending, where Kate and Braxton fall under their enemies’ hands. 3/5.
J or Josh Cody’s (James Frecheville) mother OD’s beside him. He calls maternal grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver), her little, meek voice telling him to move in with her and her sons, family man Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton), ‘don’t call me uncle’ Darren Cody (Luke Ford) – only two years older than J, and fast-moving shirtless Craig. These men are bank robbers. No biggie.
I assumed toughness from these men, and they do exude that on scene and through grainy footage screenshots of them sporting balaclavas and guns. What destroys their bravado is the decline of the bank robbers, as it goes in many films of the same genre. J also confides that they have fear and feel a familial dread, and looking at the brothers supports that assessment. Barry for example looks like he’s holding in a sigh before talking to the detectives staking out near his front door. Or Craig struggling while play fighting on the couch. Or Darren unable to interfere while someone murders a girl in front of him. There is a little part of me that doubts that fear because the narration technically filters our understand of the characters. However, at least it directs into looking at these men’s eyes at quiet moments within the film.
Then the big brother Andrew ‘Pope,’ (Ben Mendelsohn) pops out of hiding. Pervy and destructive even towards his family, he sets off the crucial events within the film. Pope’s to blame for making things worse – I see it, J sees it, but it’s never fully established whether the other characters do too.
In his misdeeds, the audience watches out for two characters. There’s Janine who seems complicit and J, whose estrangement from the family makes him wired differently from them. He can either be part of the fold or snitch to a detective (unrecognizable Guy Pearce). Their performances are underacted, naturalistic. Weaver as Janine surprises by ordering a hit, slyly dangling the reasons why that hit is beneficial to her henchmen while still keeping her motherly cool. Frecheville as J starts out as a silent wallflower but shines in a scene by himself and in another when he maturely wards off Janine’s empty promises of comfort.
However, what I like best about Animal Kingdom is how it treats these subjects and characters with deft and sympathy, while others could have seen them – watching game shows, smoking indoors, going at each other – as crass human beings.
- Movie review: ‘Animal Kingdom’ a wild thriller (sfgate.com)
- Dan Persons: Mighty Movie Podcast: David Michod on Animal Kingdom (huffingtonpost.com)