This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the film to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.
'The Thaw' has a look and a feel that's very reminiscent of a classic X-Files episode, and tells a story that would have very much felt at home in the show, albeit with much more gore and brutality than would have been allowed.
'The Thaw' tells the story of a group of researchers in the Arctic, who are studying the effects of global warming on the surrounding countryside and ecosystem. When the group tranquilise a polar bear they discover that the animal had unearthed part of a frozen woolly mammoth thanks to the receding ice levels and had been eating the ancient remains. The team transport the polar bear to their facility for further study.
When a group of students and the lead scientist's daughter arrive at the facility a few days later they discover that the polar bear, along with some members of the research team, have become infected with an ancient parasite from inside the remains of the mammoth.
What follows next is a series of events as some members of the group try desperately to return to civilisation before they become infected, whilst other members of the party sabotage their escape to prevent the parasites from spreading.
With several members of the group infected with the creatures that are eating them from the inside out, they discover that the lead scientist has a plot to return to civilisation with the parasites and allow them to spread in an attempt to lower the human population in order to reduce the global warming that is destroying the planet.
'The Thaw' is a fairly competent body horror film, one that easily plays on the fears of infection and parasites and the notion of insects growing inside the human body. We've all heard stories about bot fly larvae being found inside of people, or stories of fish that swim inside bodies through the urethra, and I doubt that there's a person who isn't at least a little disturbed by the thought of such an invasion. This film thrives on that disgust and fear, and uses it to good effect.
The isolation of the surroundings adds to the fear of infection, with nowhere to go the people are stuck with those who are or may be infected. Thankfully the locations have a look that is completely different to that of The Thing, which follows a similar theme. Instead of being surrounded by the snow and ice there is a lot of vast greenery and wilderness, that gives the film a very different feel.
The film is shot well enough, with a nice clean look to it that can at times make the scenes feel fairly cold and clinical, but I think this adds to the general aesthetic of the piece, especially when inside the research station itself.
Val Kilmer headlines the cast, though only has limited scenes in the film, though with it being Val Kilmer that might not be such a bad thing. The most notable cast member beside Kilmer is Aaron Ashmore, who's instantly recognisable, though I'm sure some of that will come from people mistaking him for his brother.
The rest of the cast being relative unknowns actually works to the films benefit, as you don't expect certain people to survive simply because they're more well known than others, which in turn adds to the question of who is or isn't infected.
The films monsters, which never get given a name, are well executed and never too over the top. Where some films would opt for larger and more visually creative creatures 'The Thaw' keeps things simple, and fairly realistic. The parasites are more like Silverfish in their execution, and this closeness to something that many of us will be familiar with makes the parasites more frightening and believable.
The effects are well made and the visuals are gory and gross enough to convey the horror of creatures inside your own body without going too far into being a splatter fest. The scenes where you can see the parasites crawling inside people's wounds before burrowing deeper inside the body are particularly unsettling and probably some of the more memorable moments.
The plot line of Val Kilmer's Dr. Kruipen wanting to infect the whole world in order to combat global warming is fairly ridiculous, and it's a huge jump to believe that a man of that kind of intellect would resort to genocide just in order to try and stop damage to the environment.
The idea of global warming leading to the discovery of ancient parasites is one that actually exists within the modern scientific community, especially with numerous ancient super vira having already been unearthed by scientists in the Siberian permafrost. Whilst it's hard to believe that parasites such as the ones in the film could actually exist, the fact that it is in some way grounded in actual scientific reality does make the film slightly more disturbing.
'The Thaw' is not an amazing piece of cinema, it will never be remembered as an all time great and it probably won't stick around in people's memories for long after watching it, but it manages to stay entertaining and engaging enough through the run time to not overstay it's welcome. It might not be the most original story in the world, but it's pulled off with competency and style.