George A. Romero and John A. Russo’s seminal 1968 zombie film, Night of the Living Dead, has been out there for the taking, free for anyone to use and/or abuse since an oversight by the film’s original theatrical distributor (they forgot to include a copyright notice on the prints! Natch!) ultimately led to the film falling into the dreaded “public domain”. Since that time, fans have been besieged by a seemingly endless parade of remakes, colorizations, parodies and “reimaginings”, not to mention the film being released as is by no less than 200 different home video entities, with not so much as a dime going into the coffers of the film’s creators. The truly sad thing is that no one had really done anything truly original with the property in the forty-plus years it’s been out there, but that’s now changed with 2011’s clever and very entertaining Mimesis.
Best friends Alan and Russell (Allen Maldonatto and Taylor Piedmonte) attend a horror convention where Russell’s idol, director Alfonso Betz (Sid Haig), is a featured speaker. During Betz’s presentation – a meditation on the inherently violent nature of human beings and how it factors into the popularity of horror cinema – a bored Alan keeps interrupting and whispering in Russell’s ear, raising the ire of both Betz and the audience. Afterward, in the cafeteria, the two friends are in the midst of a heated exchange regarding Alan’s behavior when they are interrupted by a sexy goth chick named Judith (Lauren Mae Shafer) who, after a brief flirtation with Alan, invites the boys to a very exclusive party later that evening.
Despite Russell’s objections, Alan accepts, and goads his friend into accompanying him to a remote farm where dozens of costumed revelers drink and discuss all things horror. Russell finds himself left to socialize with Carnival of Souls fanatic, Keith (David G.B. Brown) and Karen (Jana Thompson), while Alan looks for Judith. He eventually finds her, but also sees that she’s there with someone else, so, with beers in tow, the dejected Alan heads off into the darkness to find a place to relieve himself where he suddenly gets lightheaded and passes out.
The next morning, Russell awakens next to Karen in a cemetery, both wearing vintage clothes. Before they can even clear their heads, another man approaches in zombie make-up, and, assuming he’s just another guest from the party, the pair flags him down. While Russell tries to get an answer out of the man, Karen starts to question whether or not the zombie routine is an act at all. When the man lunges forward and bites a huge chunk out of Russell’s throat, she gets her answer, and flees back to the farmhouse where she finds Alan climbing out of a pickup truck. Karen’s hysterical, but manages to tell Alan about Russell, and he rushes back to the cemetery to retrieve his critically wounded friend.
It isn’t long before Alan and Karen find other “survivors” in the house, including the aforementioned Keith, who, ultimately, deduces that they’re the stars of some overzealous horror fan’s real-life homage to Night of the Living Dead. Now the heroes must depart from the carefully scripted action of their “zombie” foes if they’re to avoid their onscreen counterparts’ grisly fate!
While it’s got its share of faults and lapses in logic (why not just attack their obviously human and unarmed foes en masse once they determine they aren’t, in fact, zombies?), Mimesis is still a fun, refreshingly original twist on both the Night of the Living Dead mythos and the zombie film as a whole. It’s gory, occasionally very funny, and, for a low-budget flick, the film’s production values are actually as good as a lot of the shockers coming out of Hollywood. Much of the credit for that goes to cinematographer, Lon Stratton, whose style is reminiscent of Dean Cundey in his use of light, shadow and framing. Stratton’s photography gives Mimesis a very classic look, which makes the overreliance on jerky time-shift editing techniques that much more annoying and incongruous.
Performances are somewhat inconsistent, but Brown, Maldonatto, and Shafer do a fine job in their respective roles. Sid Haig’s cameo, on the other hand, served as little more than a distraction for me. I’m not a fan of stunt casting, and his inclusion here reeked of it, and actually hurt the film’s titular theme of mimesis (art imitating life). While I get that Haig is meant as a representation of “horror”, if you’re determined to use him, why not have him just play himself rather than a fabricated director? It certainly would have made much more sense in the scheme of things.
Mimesis comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Anchor Bay, and is presented in a solid 2.35:1 1080p transfer. Shot in HD video, the image is mostly crisp and pleasing, save for the occasional bout of moiré and a few compression artifacts, with an abundance of fine detail. Black levels are fairly consistent, with only a few moments where blacks have a bluish quality, but I credit that to those instances being shot using the old “day for night” technique that, as a fan of older cinema in which said technique was prevalent, doesn’t bother me a bit. The transfer is complimented by a very effective 5.1 Dolby True HD soundtrack that really amps up the tension with wonderfully organic sounding environmental effects and makes great use of directional cues and surround effects.
Sadly, Anchor Bay skimps on the extras, here, offering only a commentary track by director, Douglas Schulze, and Co-Writer, Joshua Wagner. It’s an engaging listen, and the two seem to cover most of the bases, but I’d have loved to see some behind-the-scenes footage or a proper making-of as the film is deserving of such.
While Mimesis doesn’t exactly redefine zombie cinema, it brings enough new stuff to the table to make it a more than worthwhile watch. I’ve seen the film torn apart on other sites, including the IMDB, but I really don’t get the hate. Personally, I was entertained by and invested in the film throughout, and, even though I, too, had more than a few problems with Mimesis, the core of what’s there is so intriguing and (mostly) well-executed that I was able to look past them. This really does seem like a love it or hate it film, so I really can’t give it more than a rental recommendation, but I will say that if you go into this one with measured expectations you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.