MIMIC **** USA 1997 Dir: Guillermo Del Toro. 105 mins (Director’s Cut: 112 mins)
Del Toro’s most straight-forward “scary movie” captures an unsettling ambience from the start, partly via Kyle Cooper’s jittery opening title sequence, echoing his design for SE7EN, a movie with which this shares an oppressively rainy visual palette. Children are dying in Manhattan of a hitherto unknown disease spread by cockroaches. The solution, the “Judas Breed”, a mutant breed of insect created by entomologist Mira Sorvino, achieves its intended mission but evolves into a monstrous species capable of mimicking human beings. MIMIC was a prime example of how Dimension Films (Miramax’s horror-centric off-shoot, best known for the SCREAM franchise) hired exceptionally talented filmmakers to make interesting genre films that were then mangled in post-production thanks to the Weinstein’s infamous tampering. Several regular Dimension personnel were involved with Del Toro’s first American film, including Marco Beltrami, whose ornate, evocative score still ranks as one of his best (parts of it and his SCREAM score would turn up in HALLOWEEN: H20). Del Toro’s Director’s Cut, eventually released on Blu-Ray, removed what the director called the “second unit crap” while reinforcing character beats and heightening a pregnancy sub-plot that provides a thoughtful flip side to the main story. Sorvino and her partner (Jeremy Northam) struggle to conceive naturally while the species they both helped to artificially create breeds and develops at alarming speed.
This cut is the one to watch though, in any version, MIMIC superbly captures an alienating big city ambience while employing the stand-out image of its inspiration (Donald A Wollheim’s short story) for the creepy initial manifestation of its threat: a tall, mysterious figure in an overcoat who turns out to be an insect. Unusual for Hollywood horror, two kids are gruesomely killed in the first half, while another (the autistic, shoe-fixated son of Giancarlo Giannini) plays a crucial role in the plot rather than serve as an invulnerable kid-in-peril. Del Toro prioritises shadowy menace over jump scares and makes great use of the already-imposing underground transport system. A monster kid through and through, he also revels in an array of inventive creature FX. Rob Bottin’s involvement reinforces the echoes of Carpenter’s THE THING, which also centered around a constantly evolving creature capable of mimicking its prey and had a similar fascination with gloop and mutation. MIMIC’s cornball Hollywood reunion finale doesn’t blunt its doomy overall atmosphere or its ingenious use of colour: note how the use of amber and cyan lighting throughout signals humanity trapped in an insect world. It’s a shame that Del Toro’s preferred, scripted ending doesn’t exist in any version: it involved a perfectly formed human mimic approaching the surviving heroine, instructing her simply to “Leave”.
MIMIC 2 *** USA 2000 Dir: Jean De Segonzac. 78 mins
Part of Dimension’s assembly line of straight-to-video sequels to theatrical horrors in the 90’s and early 2000’s, this has a surviving MIMIC creature prowling around New York City following a prologue with a Japanese commuter and a suitcase of icky things. Entomologist Alix Koromzay discovers the monster in her midst after it kills the latest in a series of losers she has dated. Realising the creature can mimic specific humans rather than merely aping the human form, she winds up trapped in her wrecked school by the beast, along with a pupil who has a crush on her and a cop (Bruno Campos). Although the school is a poor substitute for the eerie subway labyrinth of Del Toro’s film, this is slickly directed and well shot, with a funny, resilient heroine who doesn’t look like the typical female horror protagonist (though gets a gratuitous stripping-down-to-her-vest moment). Budgetary restrictions ensures the largely CGI flying beasties of MIMIC are replaced with a solitary, throwback man in a monster suit, while the gloopy, mutating clones of murdered characters again resemble monster moments from Carpenter’s THE THING. Even at this length, it’s a little padded, roping in some shady DOD agents in a pointless subplot, but the finale is effective as Koromzy attempts to communicate with the creature and events don’t pan out quite as you might predict.
MIMIC SENTINEL *** USA 2003 Dir: J.T. Petty. 76 mins
Writer- director J.T. Petty rose from modest indies like SOFT FOR DIGGING for this Hitchcock-influenced shot-in-Romania second sequel. It opens with a nod to the Del Toro original as a pre-pubescent boy is brutally killed by the insectoid creature. Thereafter, most of the movie, inspired by the structure and form of REAR WINDOW, takes place inside or from the perspective of the confined hero’s apartment. Hyper-sensitive 24 year old Karl Geary was one of the last kids to get Strickler’s Disease before the Judas Breed project destroyed the virus and created a whole new problem. Asthmatic and allergic to everything, he’s a recluse with a James Stewart-like fixation on watching and photographing those living in the opposite apartments; when he sees someone killed on the street below, he and his pals realise new forms of the Judas Breed monsters are in the area. Petty wittily reworks key scenes from REAAR WINDOW, including the hero watching with increasing anxiety as his friends poke around in the apartment of a potentially hostile character. Sadly, Geary’s character isn’t much fun to be around, and his performance oddly flat. The supporting cast has more luster: Lance Henrisken is fun as always as an eccentric who literally wrote the book on the Judas Breed, Amanda Plummer is Geary’s loving but nymphomaniac mom and Alexis Dziena is appealing as his unfeasibly hot sister. There are decent suspense bits and the fast-cut monster gore is efficient, even if the brief CGI elements are as hokey as you’d expect.
Reviews by Steven West