The Thaw (2009)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #208

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 30, 2009 (Nuremberg Fantasy Filmfest)
Sub-Genre: Survival Horror
Country of Origin: United States, Canada
Running Time: 90 minutes
Director: Mark A. Lewis
Producers: Trent Carlson, Rob Neilson, Mary Anne Waterhouse
Screenplay: Mark A. Lewis, Michael Lewis
Special Effects: Don Besse
Visual Effects: Toby Taplin, James Tichenor
Cinematography: Jan Kiesser
Score: Michael Neilson
Editing: Rob Neilson
Studio: Anagram Pictures Inc, Etch Media, Artifact Films
Distributor: Ghosthouse Underground
Stars: Val Kilmer, Martha MacIsaac, Aaron Ashmore, Kyle Schmid, Viv Leacock, Steph Song, Anne Marie Loder, William B. Davis, Garry Chalk, Peter Kelamis, John Callander, Lamech Kadloo

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Suggested Audio Candy

Mark Snow “X-Files Theme”

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We’re all doomed. It turns out Crazy Ralph was right all along. However, the death curse he was chatting about is not an overgrown man-child in an ill-fitting hockey mask. It is, in fact, global warming. As he was around thirty years premature with his Intel he was scoffed at and labeled the town loon but the whole time he knew exactly what was going on with the polar cap. Folk ignored his pleas to turn back and it was left to presidential nearly man Al Gore to educate us on the inconvenient truth. Our planet is under threat and, what is even more disheartening is that it is already under way.

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Cue Mark A. Lewis, whose eco-infection movie The Thaw has managed to remain under the radar since its release in 2009. It uses the topic of global warming as the hook for its tale of a deadly outbreak of flesh-crawling bugs released by the melting glaciers cap in a remote Arctic sub-station. Sounds distinctly familiar right? John Carpenter’s titular The Thing is clearly an inspiration as is Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever but The Thaw shares the most common ground with a first season episode of X-Files which dealt with a similar theme.

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It begins with the findings of Dr Kruipen (Val Kilmer) and his team as they unearth an ominous secret which has survived for thousand years beneath the frozen ice cap near the research station where they are based. His estranged daughter Evelyn (Martha MacIsaac from The Last House on The Left remake) and three pre-selected ecology students travel to the base in order to learn more of the famed scientist’s exploits and, in Martha’s case, repair her fragmented relationship with her father. Soon after their arrival they make a shocking discovery involving the carcass of a woolly mammoth which plays host to all manner of prehistoric parasites.

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Any similarities with The Thing prove to be extremely tenuous as the manifestation of said crawlies is well documented throughout. We are exposed to the infection and its hosts which depletes much of the tension as it becomes more a case of when as opposed to if. However the young cast cope admirably and, although we’re kind of aware of the pecking order, the way in which events unfurl does manage to retain our interest and the pacing is solid throughout.

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Despite this there is some questionable logic demonstrated, especially given the fact that these are college-educated environmentalists and not just your regular dumbass kids. Federico (Kyle Schmid) is the chief offender and goes from bug-phobic germophobe to self-proclaimed leader of the pack in the blink of an eye. Meanwhile the once great Val Kilmer again demonstrates how he has fallen from grace since the days of The Doors as he is given very little to do and disappears for the lion’s share of the duration. On the flip side, Viv Leacock’s helicopter pilot Bart is well fleshed out and infinitely likeable.

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The premise offers up plentiful opportunities for icky grue and, while The Thaw is by no means an all out splatter fest, it does feature plenty of moments to have you scratching like a flea-bitten mutt on a hot long summer afternoon. The bugs breed through laying eggs within their host and we are offered gruesome glimpses of them making themselves very much at home and scurrying about via a network of open sores and painful looking abrasions.

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Once large enough in numbers we are treated to the sight of them making short work of a quarantined polar bear’s cadaver and CGI, which I would ordinarily find takes away from credibility in films such as this, is rather well implemented and never over-used. To add the infected icing to the cake there is a suitably grisly home-made amputation which opts for practical effects and Don Besse handles the SFX with aplomb. Meanwhile, the insular setting is isolated enough to convey the sense of hopelessness that Lewis would have been aiming for.

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The Thaw is perfect cable fodder, never elevating itself above the crowd, but managing to entertain and sicken just enough to keep things moving and uphold our investment. It is no classic and could have been better with a little more care and attention but it does offer 90 minutes of intrigue and enough flesh-eating to warrant taking a bath directly afterwards so, in that respect, it is job done.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: When it forgets the politics and gets on with the flesh-crawling Lewis’ film really finds its feet. It’s no carnival of grue but watching infected limbs being hacked off with meat cleavers never gets dull and the SFX are more than up to scratch. Speaking of scratching, those with bug phobias may well want to give this a rather wide berth. The next time you piss blood you will likely spare a thought for these cantankerous dick ticks.

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Read The Thing (1982) Appraisal
Read The Thing (2011) Appraisal
Read Wither Appraisal
Read Cabin Fever 2 Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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  1. By no means was this “good”, but it served as entertaining and I’ll even be able to watch it again in years to come. I (as an entomologist) was especially amused and baffled by how they referred to the monsters as “vertebrates” when the effects people clearly made every effort to compare them to invertebrates. As if scripting that these obvious arthropods had a spine could make them any more interesting.

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