Film discussion

Throwback 20: Mimic

Today’s film discussion is definitely not for anyone that has a problem with bugs.  Especially not bugs that are eight foot tall instruments of carnage.

Mimic is the sophomore offering from now legendary director Guillermo Del Toro (Cronos, Hellboy, Shape of Water) and I have seen pretty much everything the man has ever made, starting with his amazing take on the vampire myth – Cronos. Today, though, we’re going to be talking about this somewhat more conventional horror movie that often seems to get overlooked when people discuss his filmography.

Set in New York, hundreds of children are afflicted with a condition known as Strickler’s Disease. We’re spared the details, but it’s implied that the mortality rate is high. To combat this disease, which is transmitted by cockroaches, entomologist Susan Tyler (played by Mira Sorvino) genetically engineers a new breed of cockroach called “The Judas Breed” which produces an enzyme that causes the normal roaches to, basically, starve to death by supercharging their metabolism so they burn food faster than they can eat it. The Judas Breed are implanted with a suicide gene to ensure that none of them will live past six months.

Strickler’s is wiped out, no more children fall ill and everything ends happily ever after. It’s a surprisingly brief and upbeat movie from Del Toro and I am totally kidding because of course that’s not what happens. Instead, it turns out that some of the Judas breed have survived, and are growing faster than anybody could have expected or predicted.

This is, for me, a bit of a curious offering from Del Toro. It’s got a lot of his hallmark style all over it. Lots of long, dark, brooding shots, chaotic spaces, the grotesqueries of the evolving Judas Breed but some of it is distinctly heavy handed in execution. Every shot of the Judas is accompanied by foreboding music and ominous, lingering camera angles. While I do get that most of us would already know that their experiment is going to go horribly wrong, there’s not even the slightest attempt to suggest anything otherwise. Right from the get-go the movie is erecting blinking neon signs fifty feet high that go “THESE ARE YOUR VILLAINS. THESE ARE YOUR VILLAINS.”

This may in part be down to Del Toro not quite perfecting his style at this point (he only had Cronos before this, the rest had been short movies and TV episodes), and also due to his issues with Harvey and Bob Weinstein who, it’s said, constantly demanded that the film be scarier and changes be made to the script.

As well as Mira Sorvino, our other lead actors include Jeremy Northam as “Peter Mann”, Charles S Dutton as “Leonard” and an almost unrecognisable Josh Brolin as “Josh”. Also keep an eye out for pre-pre-PRE Walking Dead Norman Reedus who has a brief cameo in the midpart of the movie. None of the performances are what I’d call stand out, but none of them are terrible either. Mira Sorvino’s character definitely suffers from that whole “smart people doing really stupid things” that seems to be a bit of a trope in horror movies.

“Oh look, here is a box containing a weird bug that has been shaking and chirping. I shall stick my hand right in it and then be surprised when something tries to bite me.” Followed mere minutes later by “I now have the bug held in some tongs, I know it tried to bite me earlier, but surely it won’t do it again when I stick my fingers in its face. Oh wait, it totally did.”

Another slight issue the film has is that the CGI sections haven’t aged very well and the VFX shots of the bugs both manage to stand out and be really blurry at the same time. That said, the practical effects are still lovely even today, reminding us that even now there’s still a place for practical effects in films! Kudos to Rob Bottin (The Thing, The Howling, Total Recall, Robocop) for his awesome creature design work!

Mimic is a solid, if somewhat by the numbers horror movie. It’s worth watching for fans of Del Toro’s work (just make sure you pick up the director’s cut) and fans of monster movies. It’s one I regularly come back to when I need my monster fix (along with The Relic, there’s another brilliant and underappreciated movie) and hopefully by talking about it today I can do my small part to help it find a fresh new audience.

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