“Watch Clark. And watch him good.”
That single, simple line of dialogue epitomizes the primal horror at the heart of John Carpenter’s masterful meditation on paranoia. What the slightly unhinged Dr. Blaire (played by an oddly effective Wilford Brimley) really means to say is “Trust no one.” And how can these poor, trapped scientists trust anyone when they’re up against a foe so far outside the realm of human comprehension?
What is the strange, alien thing that infiltrates their Antarctic base? A shape-shifter that consumes its victims? A virus that takes over the body of its host? Can a person become an impostor without even realizing it?
Carpenter wisely withholds any definitive answers. Our heroes spend the film fumbling through the dark as anxiety gradually whittles their sanity down to nothing–and our own uncertainty allows us to share in their fear.
[Originally written October 8, 2012.]