20 Years Ago Today: Guillermo del Toro’s Man-Sized Bugs Attack in ‘Mimic’
A look back at this inventive monster in the dark thriller.
Mimic is a 1997 sci-fi horror film about an entomologist who genetically created an insect to kill cockroaches carrying a virulent disease, though now they are out to destroy their only predator, mankind.
They say cockroaches can survive just about anything, even a nuclear blast, so it only seems natural they’d get some screen time in a horror film, though aside from one decidedly unnerving segment in George A. Romero 1982 anthology film Creepshow, the little buggers have been surprisingly lacking (let’s just skip Joe’s Apartment altogether). So leave it to horror master Guillermo del Toro to change all that and give these resilient insects some proper due in a clever and dark thriller that was a minor Box Office dud, despite some high praise, perhaps proving that bugs just don’t have that big screen appeal. Too bad ‘cuz Mimic is a great film.
THE STORY: Manhattan is gripped by a deadly children’s disease called “Strickler’s”, something spread by cockroaches, so entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler (Mia Sorvino) steps up with a new strand of bug she calls the ‘Judas Breed’, which is metabolically designed to starve the insects to death. It works and the threat is eliminated, though three years later, another bug shows up, similar to the Judas, which Susan thinks is impossible, but after consulting with her mentor, Dr. Gates (F. Murray Abraham), realizes a new generation has spawned and are now spreading again, however this time, there is a terrifying new development. The bugs are human-sized and can mimic a man. Not good.
REVIEW: With del Toro behind the camera, you can be sure a movie about bugs is plenty creepy and if there’s anything that Mimic has going for it, it’s the dark and atmospheric mood, saturated in a some delicious gooey fun. Taking itself very seriously, the film is both a solid thriller and a clever sci-fi fantasy.
After Susan seemingly eradicated the plaque, she becomes a kind of short-lived hero, even marrying the head of the CDC Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam). All seems well until three years later a church reverend on a rainy night is murdered by a strange figure in the dark, seen only by a young boy named Chuy, an autistic child in the care of immigrant subway shoe shiner named Manny (Giancarlo Giannini). The kid is a whiz with identifying shoes. He calls the killer, “Mr. Funny Shoes.” Turns out, Funny Shoes is on the hunt and he’s not done yet.
The thing about Mimic that works best is del Toro’s commitment to the premise, even as absurd as it is, which, in his highly capable hands, makes it all disturbingly convincing, or at least fittingly fun as a monster movie. You’ll be checking under your sofa, let’s be clear about that.
The film is carefully-structured and follows a very precise formula, one that is influenced by such films as Ridley Scott‘s Alien (1979), John Carpenter‘s The Thing (1982), and even to some degree, Steven Spielberg‘s Jurassic Park (1993), tapping into our baser fears as creepy crawlies scurry from the shadows. And this is where del Toro puts a lot of his energies, keeping things dark while having the characters in the story explore it, sticking their hands in places we would definitely not. It’s nerve-wracking stuff.
While Chuy is a bit of a contrivance, and is never really that engaging or even necessary, the remainder of the cast delivers better. Del Toro likes to populate his movies with children and what’s more, put them in danger, and as this is a horror film, doesn’t treat them with kid-gloves.
That said, it’s all filmed like a children’s nightmare, a recurring motif with del Toro, having a surreal look to it, and while many of the trappings of the genre are in place, he finds ways to take us in different directions. That’s probably best seen in the mimics themselves, cleverly-designed bug monsters that are able to loosely resemble the form of a man in a trenchcoat, and as nature is full of insects doing remarkable things with camouflage and mimicry, all feels kind of authentic. They are a unique and substantial movie monster.
Sorvino is very good as Susan, even if she is filling in a trope-ish beautiful-girl role. Josh Brolin shows up as a CDC assistant and veteran run-from-monster guy Charles S. Dutton plays an MTA officer. Sure, the movie doles out some standards, such as mobile calls that drop out and a variety of false jump scares, but del Toro keeps them all clocking along with great momentum. There’s some great suspense leading up to the finale and the story nevers settles on the routine.
Twenty years ago, Mimic hit theaters and while it failed there, did well on home video, though has never really been embraced for the cool psychological thriller it really it. It’s smart, tricky, and inventive and while you’re never not really out of the loop in terms of where it’s all going, del Toro’s impressive visuals and imaginative presentation make this one to watch.