This film, like most action movies, is concerned with a battle amongst Alpha males. However, unlike most action movies, it is largely a battle of wits. Of course, there are explosions, and fist fights and shootings in keeping with all the action movie traditions. Nevertheless, the tension in this movie is unlike that featured in other action films. The paranoia in this film is omnipresent, it is almost a living thing and it it is far more unsettling then the alien which is hunting, or rather, residing inside some of these men. The remote nature of the base heightens it as does the close quarters and the relentless cold and snow. In many ways, the events of this film seem to be occurring on another planet. It is an alien world, in which an actual alien is attacking humans, but the behaviors of the humans within it are rather typical.
Though much was made of this film's groundbreaking special effects in the early 80s, its strength lies in its subtlety. It is the fear these men experience and the uncertainty over who is and isn't the enemy that makes this film. Unlike other action films, all male bodies are covered by heavy winter clothing. Of course, this is a necessity due to the frigid temperatures, yet this concealment adds to the sense of dread and paranoia. It reflects the hidden nature of the threat and the way in which each character has no way of knowing the true nature of the other. That these men are fully clothed also confirms that this film is a matter of brains over brawn. If they are to be victorious over the alien, they must use their intellect rather than brute strength.
Once the action begins, there are no longer any daylight scenes. All is dark and cold. This intensifies the sense of mystery and the unknown. Furthermore, The Thing's brilliant conclusion leaves the viewer with a sense of uncertainty. The final sequence of this film is wonderfully understated. Childs and MacReady are the only men left. They contemplate their situation in a conversation that is as subtle as the scene itself. There is, however, a danger beneath it- a veiled threat. The camera alternates the close up shots of their faces and the back and forth volley of their conversation reemphasizes the male competition theme of this film. It is unclear whether Childs is really human at this point (though there are some signs that he may not be). MacReady watches him and Childs glares back as the haunting soundtrack begins quietly. This scene solidifies the unsettled feeling that has been evident throughout the film and that feeling persists long after the film is over.