A deadly child-killing virus has struck New York City. The disease is being spread by cockroaches, so a team of entomologists, lead by Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) engineer a mutant strain they call the Judas breed, with a limited lifespan & without the ability to reproduce, that will kill the ‘roaches. The disease is stopped, & Susan is hailed as the heroine of the city. Three years later, two children bring her a huge bug that they found in the subway. Realising it’s just a baby, Susan is disconcerted to note that it has bears the same signature as the Judas. This may just be connected to the abandoned church next door to Manny (Giancarlo Giannini) & his son Chuy (Alexander Goodwin), where tall shadowy figures with "funny, funny shoes" has caused several deaths, & left some pretty strange (literal) shit.
Mimic begins brilliantly with a queasily edited title sequence, accompanied by Marco Beltrami’s grand score, that’s basically an insectoid version of Se7ens’. What surprises on repeat viewing is just how long it stays on track – often bordering on genius – before is finally derails in the third act. The original plan for Mimic was apocalyptic, but a worried studio demanded that it be downsized, & the result is a disappointingly conventional (but still decidedly superior) monster movie. The first two thirds or so are terrific, with the dark & mysterious opening giving was to a tense & thrilling series of close encounters in a disused subway system culminated in a pair of attack on a train that rival Aliens for excitement. Unfortunately, at around this point is starts to fall apart. The narrative is not allowed to develop any more, & the final third is simply an extension of the second, but to rather weaker effect. This leaves the audience disappointed, since they’ve begun to think that Mimic is something special, only for it to stop for an over-familiar tale of people trapped in a dark place being killed one by one by a shadowy foe. Having said that, I wish more monster movies could be executed with anything remotely resembling the skill & flair of Mimic.
There is so much to enjoy here. Director Guillermo del Toro is a great visual stylist & the film contains many startling, memorable images. He shows great use of camera movement & editing in the creation of tension, & delivers some genuine frights & shocks. Given his staunch Catholic upbringing, it’s not hard to detect a certain dark humour to the religious overtones of the story, & particularly using a disused church as one of the entrances to the subway system. He also is allowed to put a bit of personal touches in with the characters of Manny & his son Chuy, who can remarkably mimic any sound, & identify a pair of shoes simply by the sound. And despite the studio interference, he has managed to sneak some pretty gruesome imagery into the film, with nasty internal organs (insect, not human) being smeared on open wounds, & some very weird shit. Overall, there’s more than enough talent on display here to make me wish that del Toro had been given Alien Resurrection instead of the less appropriate Jeunet. Indeed, there’s plenty of similarities to the Alien films here – big monsters attacking in dark, shadowy corridors, & the nest structure used by the Aliens is based on the insect structure that is appropriately used here. Sorvino even gets a "get away from the child" moment at the end.
Cinematographer Dan Laustsen gives the film a dark & beautiful look, & Rob Bottins’ creature effects are very good too. Composer Marco Beltrami delivers a terrific score that is by turns grand, aggressive, beautiful, & above all memorably melodic, which I highly recommend seeking out of CD for those who like their scores. Sound is used very effectively too (sound design by Steve Boeddeker of Fight Club), with some particularly creepy effects characterising the creatures, & maintaining a distinctly creepy feel in the quieter moments. In terms of acting, everyone does a pretty good job, with Sorvino & Jeremy Northam having some nice & surprisingly touching little moments together.
Overall, Mimic is a rather frustrating film that disappoints because of what it could have been. Still, as long as you don’t expect it to be anything more than a big bug movie, you should have a great time, since few films have done it as well. It’s definitely a flawed film, but there are enough moments of brilliance to make it well worth your time.
The DVD features a really good Dolby 5.1 audio transfer, & a fine (although sadly only letterboxed) picture. However, the only extra is a trailer. Still, you can probably find it going for around $10, and at that price the film alone provides you with enough bang for your buck.