The Thing (1982)
REWIND likes to talk about “perfect” movies. The phrase shouldn’t be construed to mean that every discrete atom of the movie is without flaw. It means that everything the movie attempts, works. And it works at the highest possible level, given what is being attempted. It necessarily requires at least two things no human on either side of the camera can control: luck and synergy. By those lights, The Thing is a perfect movie. And when it came out, it bombed.
Consider: practical creature effects have never been executed as well or deployed as intelligently as they are here. But that same care and vision and disturbing aesthetic overwhelmed audiences. They couldn’t recover from what they saw enough to understand why they were seeing it. The film’s despairing and nihilistic tone, the panicky vibration of the character interactions, the tense, synthy Morricone score, the bleak setting and unexpected pace: same thing. It was too much. Audiences couldn’t handle it.
They can now, of course. Forty years after its release, John Carpenter’s claustrophobic parlor-room-mystery-cum-splatter-film is a beloved cult classic. As Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times put it, “as much as critics dismissed the film as expensive trash, there is an idea here: that fear and paranoia can dissolve the bonds of friendship, camaraderie and citizenship. That they can sap us of our ability to work together and paralyze us in the face of crisis. It is an idea which, in our age of misinformation, public distrust and pandemic disease, lands with heavy force.” Truly a movie ahead of its time.