Published August 1, 1997
Mimic, written by Matthew Robbins and Guillermo Del Toro and directed by Del Toro (Cronos) is almost an old-fashioned creature feature — a cross between the slime-is-alive flick and the monsters-in-the- subway flick — but it is a surprisingly watchable and suspenseful example of the kind. Del Toro, who showed his cleverness and originality in Cronos makes use of the same qualities here, plus a strong cast, to breathe new life into what might seem very tired material. Even more impressively, he does so without the kind of postmodern archness which has come to be a continual irritant if a very occasional delight in most films of this type.
The medium-high concept is that, two years before the action of the film begins, a new plague called Strickler’s Disease, carried by cockroaches, started killing the children of New York in terrifying numbers. The film opens with pseudo-documentary footage of the means by which a brilliant entomologist, Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) genetically engineered a new species of bug, called “the Judas breed” to wipe out the cockroaches. The Judas bugs were also engineered (this is stretching credulity a little) with a “suicide gene” so that they would proceed to wipe themselves out. Dr. Tyler and her colleague from the Center for Disease Control, Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) have been hailed as heroes and public benefactors.
Now, two years later and Dr. Susan and Dr. Peter have married and are trying to start a family. At the same time, among derelicts and “mole people,” something is causing strange disappearances and, in a few cases, horrible deaths. It does not take long for the audience to put together these two strands of narrative and realize that the Judas bugs did not all self-destruct. That any watcher of horror movies will have expected. What is unexpected is that they have developed lungs, grown to human size and evolved to mimic the human form, all in the space of two years (somehow they must have “sped up its breeding cycle,” Dr Tyler theorizes). In short, beneficent science has inadvertently created a Frankenstein’s monster which is roaming wild beneath the streets of the city.
Del Toro wisely avoids the temptation to become too portentously philosophical about this. There is a former professor of Dr Tyler’s, played by F. Murray Abraham, who does a bit of cluck-clucking about the consequences of her messing with nature, but he hasn’t much to do. And what you might think of as the obligatory scenes in which police and potentates and politicians get involved and shout at each other and attempt to organize responses to the threat to the city are completely omitted. The battle against the bugs is fought entirely by Dr. Peter and Dr. Susan, plus an assistant to the former (Josh Brolin), a city transport cop called Leonard (Charles S. Dutton) and a wizened old Italian shoemaker (Giancarlo Giannini) and his weird son, Chuy (Alexander Goodwin) who seem to have wandered into this film from a fairy tale..
The good thing about the movie is that we are made to care about the main characters and therefore what happens to them, and that the suspense as to what is going to happen to them is kept up almost continually until the end. It is also a cool and very spooky idea to conceive of the big bugs as having adapted to their environment by mimicking their main predator, man. The sheer physical means by which they put on a human appearance and then kill you with their sword-like appendages is visually very impressive. The bad thing is the strain on our credulity of the accelerated evolution and the fact that, when two of the most sympathetic characters are carried off by the bugs, they are not killed, whereas everybody else to suffer this misfortune dies instantly and horribly. Lucky thing it was these two, huh? But on the whole, the skillful and original handling of the material makes this that rare thing, a contemporary horror movie that is worth seeing.0