Director: Guillermo del Toro. Starring: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, F. Murray Abraham, Giancarlo Giannini. USA, 1997. Budget: $30 million. IMDb: 5.9. My rating: 3/4. Gothic gloomy tale about giant bugs vs humans with incredible visuals.
– How come you love bugs so much?
– These guys were building castles while dinosaurs were still wimpy little lizards.
(Mira Sorvino’s character about her passion)
I must confess that I approached “Mimic” with some kind of suspicion. I adore Guillermo del Toro. He is an incredible artist with unique visual style, but being just his second feature film (“Cronos” was the first one and it had good critical success, by the way), I had a doubt that it wasn’t already that Guillermo del Toro we all know and love. It’s also his lowest rated movie on IMDb. Damn, I couldn’t have been more wrong. A thousand apologies. Darkness blended with acid colours, gothic gloom in Victorian style, church-like sewers, unborn creatures, gore and blood. Pure joy for the heart.
The plot. Cockroaches are spreading a lethal virus in Manhattan. Entomologyst Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) creates genetically modified version of an insect, that can mimic as a normal cockroach and kill them with a special fluid. It worked – but three years later it seems that the new breed that was supposed to last only one generation not only survived, but developed some new scary abilities… With the help of Dr. Peter Mann they start to go deeper in abandoned railway stations to find out what the fuck is happening there.
The production. “Mimic” was made in 1997, pretty late… I mean, if it was shot in 1978, it would have been remembered as a breakthrough. It received mixed reviews, although some notorious critics (even Roger Ebert) gave it high rating. Still, it was a box office failure – $25,5 million box office with $30 million budget and a 5.9 (!) IMDb rating. “The Faculty” (Robert Rodriguez did second camera unit work for “Mimic”, by the way), which is a way less original/beautiful has 6.4 and “Event Horizon” holds 6.7. The only reasonable explanation of what exactly didn’t work out with “Mimic” is that it was erroneously marketed as a slick horror while it’s something more stylish and dense. It has a good texture and delivers exactly what it promises. It’s finally a movie about giant bugs vs people that doesn’t feel cheap, trashy and has gorgeous design and visuals.
The relationship between Guillermo del Toro and the studio and producers was pretty troublesome, as he mentioned in various interviews, finally resulting in trying to distantiate himself from the film, once it was released. And right in the middle of the filming, a terrible thing happened – his father was kidnapped. He was rescued later safe and sound (James Cameron helped Guillermo del Toro as they are lifelong friends), but of course it made a huge impact on everything. Since then the Mexican director moved permanently to the USA.
What I liked. “Mimic” is often categorized as horror but… I’d rather say it’s as scary as “Pan’ Labyrinth” or Tim Burton’s films. So, not really scary – although it surely has some bloodcurdling moments. In first place it has a different feel that that’s more unique. Mesmerizing. “Mimic” is a dark tale. The film is literally filled with the sense blazing gloom. And that makes it different from most 90-s sci-fi/thriller/horrors – the visuals here are dominating. The film doesn’t escape some genre cliches like preparing us slowly for a scary moment that finally turns fake. The favorite thing that characters love to do is to enter small dark tubes, tunnels and holes. But it’s all part of the game, isn’t it?
The monsters design is curious. The name of the movie would be a suggestion about their physical nature, but I wouldn’t reveal more to avoid spoilers. Let’s just say that the main idea is brilliant. It makes a dual reference to “Alien”/”Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. The film is full of slimy stuff and weird sticky liquids – giant eggs, monsters, insects-mutants or humans torn apart.
Mira Sorvino. Wow! That was a real revelation. I didn’t know much about her except for her brilliant role of a ditzy prostitute in “Mighty Aphrodite” for which she received both Oscar and Golden Globe that really launched her career. Watch this scene at 3:00, it’s really hilarious:
Sorvino was on her peak in the 90-s, but later in mid 2000-s somehow disappeared, making more independent movies with limited release. She is a very versatile actress and what I especially appreciated is that she doesn’t try to build up her character as a typical sexy female showing off her body (she could do that easily) and gradually reducing clothes quantity, rather playing a real scientist passionate about bugs. My big respect for this decision (surely there’s Del Toro’s merit here too). That’s a cheap trick most similar films fall into to attract bigger audience, but you won’t see it here. Her character was lovely, believable and real.
What I didn’t like. Except for Mira Sorvino’s character, all the others suffer from the lack of development or real depth. There are some bright secondary characters like the spooky kid who imitated shoes sounds with spoons… but mostly the humans are needed here to enter small closed spaces and put various parts of their bodies in dark holes. All actors involved are actually talented – F. Murray Abraham, Josh Brolin, Jeremy Northam (many of you for sure have seen “Cypher”), Giancarlo Giannini, but except for their interaction with the bugs, most scenes don’t lead anywhere and sometimes look like time-fillers.
Reading various reviews, the acting seemed a problem for many viewers. Well… the human characters in “Mimic” are just too normal. There is a reverse side of medal too… say, “Jurrasic Park” had brighter characters, right? But were they really deep. original or more developed? They weren’t. They just had lots of entertaining and goofy lines and occasional overacting – and it suited well the overall feel of Spielberg’s film. Honestly, both versions aren’t perfect. Guillermo del Toro knew that – and with time the characters in his movies became really detailed, real and elaborated.
“Mimic” has a big potential with lots of ideas and could easily develop them in a more complex story, but little got realized probably due to a troubled production. The film was a good lesson for Guillermo del Toro though, as it’s probably the only black sheep in his career compared to what he did later – and he certainly put more effort in developing human characters as bright and curious as the visuals. Finally, you cannot want it all from a horror movie about giant bugs killing people.
The action scenes, especially in the first part, were somehow clumsy and shot in a videoclip manner with lots of quick cuts so you can barely see what is actually happening.
Worth watching? “Mimic” is a good little B-movie that seems to be undeservedly forgotten over time. It has awesome design, sticky gloomy atmosphere and incredible visuals thanks to Guillermo del Toro confident directing. Mira Sorvino is a delight to watch and the main idea of the monsters design is really psychodelic. There are some occasional horror cliches, plot hints leading nowhere and the characters could be more developed better, but the devil is in the details – “Mimic” is an elaborated and visually beautiful science fiction thriller that doesn’t try to be big like “Pacific Rim”, nor it shouldn’t. Finally, it’s a movie by Guillermo del Toro, what else you need go know? As I mentioned in another review, the failures of talented people are as interesting as their successes.
P. S. Here you’ll find an interesting discussion about the film.