Horror isn't necessarily my favorite genre, if only because of the past decade's flood of 'torture porn' films. That said, when the genre is done right, I'm all for being scared witless, and that's exactly what John Carpenter with The Thing. Though actually a remake, Carpenter's version is often considered the definitive telling of the story, and after seeing the film, it's easy to see why. Carpenter's direction is wickedly atmospheric, creating a quiet sense of unease right from the beginning. He doesn't rely too much on jump scares or intrusive music (though Ennio Morricone's contributions are excellent), with the result being that even scenes that end without anything bad happening still feel tense. If there's one major gripe to be had, it's that the characters aren't necessarily that well developed. Not that this was meant to be an actor's piece, but they're all pretty interchangeable, and when someone dies, we're left strictly with a feeling of horror and panic, with little to no connection to the individual. Still, Carpenter and co. deserve credit for showing the monster in such graphic detail, while still earning genuine scares.
It's not every day that a horror remake ends up being superior to a World War II film, but that's what happened this week. Though it has a compelling, true story as its source, and even won the Golden Globe for Foreign Language Film, Europa Europa doesn't appear to have aged terribly well. Though the story covers an awful lot of territory, it doesn't handle the pacing of events well (the unfortunately overwrought score, by the otherwise excellent Zbigniew Preisner, doesn't help matters). The protagonist, Saloman, is constantly introduced to characters, only to have the film rip them away through death or some other means. This may have been done to emphasize the impermanence caused by war, but Holland's execution leaves a lot to be desired. The story does settle down at around the 1 hour mark, and there's a particularly chilling scene set in a shower, but by then it's too late. Even with roughly another hour left, Holland's film can't make up for the absolute hollowness of the first half, and it carries over with hugely detrimental results.