An excerpt from my script review for The Thing (1982) which will be available 11/15/21:
2.) Plot Stability
Sure, the film is from 1982, but before you call it outdated and move on, realize the techniques and situations utilized in this project are still relevant today.
With the New Year just around the bend, I’m sure some of your minds are drifting back to screenwriting, wanting this to be your year.
It certainly can be, but why not get back to the basics of what works, and in genres that sell?
We’ve discussed multiple times about how this is one of the most lucrative and forgiving genres with a dedicated audience.
Once you’re open to that suggestion, take into consideration that the most recent Blood List has incorporated their “Fresh Blood” style of previous years, promoting not just unproduced scripts, but undiscovered writers.
One of the largest hurdles we have submitting specs is where to send them.
Here’s a legitimate spot, just make sure to mind the deadline for submissions.
So why does The Thing work?
Suspense. Tension. Paranoia.
For me it’s not the monster, or at least not seeing it visually.
What I enjoy from watching the film initially, and then reading the script this past weekend, is that you know something is wrong but you’re not sure what (or who).
We open on two men hunting down a dog in a helicopter.
Flying low to the ground, in dangerous weather, taking random rifle shots at this dog fleeing for his life.
That’s our opening!
Once they’re out of the picture, the dog is taken inside, and we see it milling around the research compound, no one stopping it.
In any other location it’d be a heartfelt moment, especially for these lonely men in the Antarctic, but it’s not. Something is wrong and we sense it.
That’s later revealed via typical 1980s exposition, both audio and video, but for me it’s the men.
They’re trapped in this remote facility, no help to reach out to and only their nerves (or lack thereof for some) to rely on.
Of course shit’s going to hit the fan, the Thing is a fucking shape shifting alien!
And this is the brilliance behind the location.
Antarctic research facility. Boat. Remote cabin in the wilderness….it doesn’t matter where you put your characters because the monster is realistically going to play second fiddle to the various human personalities that will inevitably be bouncing off the walls.
Second, the story kept us guessing.
Everyone was a suspect, and that’s great.
We witnessed certain characters vanishing at various points, and then reappearing.
Were they up to no good? Were they dealing with something the thing did elsewhere?
We don’t know.
Similar to that motives and personalities seem to change, leaving us (the audience) unsure of whose side to be on.
For instance, Blair, the resident biologist, barricades himself inside one of the huts, not wanting anything to get to him.
Towards the end of the script he’s suddenly very afraid of being alone, swearing to be good.
This is great because we’re unsure if the isolation is getting to him and he’s beginning to crack or is it the Thing just trying to play nice?
Our wondering is what keeps us reading/watching.
If you’re unfamiliar with this project, and have accepted at least the validity of the opening argument for writing in horror if not fully committed to it, you should check it out in one form or another.
Set aside the horror monster and visual effects, and dive into what creates the tension in the story.
That’s what you’ll want to emulate.
(Oh, and the “blood test” scheme MacReady uses was just fantastic. If you can only watch/read one part it’d be that towards the end of the script, because shit palpable between these men.)
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