What hath global warming wrought? The Prius? Leonardo DiCaprio? Recycled toilet paper that itches? Maybe a melting glacier in the Yukon unveils the carcass of a Mammoth whose body is infested with a prehistoric parasite that spells destruction for the whole human race. And to think, I was worried about saving the earth and my electric bill by switching to CFL bulbs.
Val Kilmer plays renowned scientist Dr. David Kruipen. Kruipen has discovered a mammoth body and is trying desperately to contain the outbreak lying under its flesh and, keep his estranged daughter Evelyn (Last House on the Left’s Martha MacIssac) from coming to the remote dig site. But thanks to Evelyn’s daddy issues, she’s headed up to the arctic with a batch of fresh-faced college kids to face pop’s head on. But, when they all arrive at the research station it begins to look like this lonesome desolate facility might just be their final resting place.
Sci-fi/Horror disguised as an eco-terrorism morality tale is really just a variation on The Thing. Only this time the thing(s) are tiny bugs that looks like a cross between a cockroach and an earwig. They get under your skin literally, lay a bunch of eggs, and pretty soon, you’re puking up your guts before they consume every inch of your flesh and leave you a slimy pile of bones and bloody guts.
In spite of all the grue, the film has a very clean, made-for-tv-movie look about it. The sets are sparse and the scenery is even more Spartan (they are in the middle of nowhere after all). It’s all pretty straightforward, with some passable characterizations from Kilmer (sorta phoning-in a standard pensive performance, we know he can do in his sleep) and MacIssac (who was much more effortlessly naturalistic in Last House on the Left). The rest of the gang are your standard issue cabin-in-the-woods horror movie types—the oversexed couple, the loaner and the stir-crazy lunatic who might just kill them all to save himself. It’s a set ’em up and knock ’em down thriller that offers only the most mildly distracting of modern twists to offset the textbook traumas that befall these kids.
In the end, The Thaw has a hard time getting past the been there, done that feeling that the film emits. It’s got lofty goals but like the characters suspect motivations in the script, they are problematic to pull off. Would it be worse if the film was preachy about its designs? Absolutely. But, by not making them terribly compelling it also fails to connect the view to the characters in the film. We don’t really feel a loss for MacIssac because it’s not really clear that she has lost anything in the film. Her big revelatory moment doesn’t carry the weight that it needs to make the narrative succeed. In fact, a lesser moment in the film where MacIssac is forced to strip in front of the others in order to prove she is not infected (a scene, I might add, that has been done many times before in other productions) is much more immediate and harrowing than anything in the films epic climax. Perhaps the filmmakers should have taken a cue from this scene and stripped their story down to a more raw and emotional place. Maybe then the audience could react with a little more human understanding and empathy to the tale they chose to tell.