Guillermo del Toro’s 1997 creature feature is the film from his CV that now tends to be forgotten – usually on purpose. Compromised almost from the word Go, the Mexican director disowned it for a long time until last year when he was invited to assemble a director’s cut, returning the film to a version which came as close as possible to his original vision. I’ve finally got around to watching this cut of the film, hence this somewhat tardy review.
Mimic wasn’t a great film in its original iteration, and to be honest it still isn’t. But it remains an extremely polished and very enjoyable melding of Hollywood B-movie clichés with del Toro’s trademark fantasy-horror preoccupations, and this version is something of a modest improvement.
The plot, based on a short story by Donald A. Wollheim, is par for the monster movie course. A group of scientists led by Mira Sorvino, in an attempt to halt the spread of a disease killing New York City’s children, create a mutant insect that wipes out cockroaches, the disease’s carrier. Three years later, random people are being picked off in and around the subway system. It turns out those mutant insects have done a lot more mutating that anyone expected, evolving to human size and enjoying the taste of their new prey: humans.
As an example of del Toro’s work, Mimic features many of the themes that the director would subsequently return to: Frankenstein science, fairy tales, the innocence of childhood, religion (specifically Catholicism), and of course horrors lurking beneath the surface of the ordinary world, both real and imagined. Almost all of these are more successfully explored in his finest achievement to date, Pan’s Labyrinth. Here he only skims the surface; clearly this was a stepping stone to greater things, though frequent interference by the film’s producer Bob Weinstein probably didn’t help much.
Yet the twin compensations of a strong cast and a beautifully shot production make Mimic an effective genre entry. Mira Sorvino as the inventor of the giant mutant cockroaches (of which there are far too few movies in my book) and Jeremy Northam as her colleague and husband are both much better than this sort of material, but they still treat it with an admirable seriousness. A stronger-than-expected supporting cast (Giancarlo Giannini, Charles S. Dutton, Josh Brolin, F. Murray Abraham) adds another level of class to the film, keeping it together even as the familiar plot refuses to deviate from its well-worn path.
Dan Laustsen’s cinematography delivers a pleasing glossiness to the sewer and underground sets, heightening the dank and slimy gloom in a way that favourably recalls Alien (clearly a strong influence throughout; Charles S. Dutton’s casting certainly feels like a nod to the franchise). The highlight is the sequence set within a subway car, as the key characters come under attack from a swarm of the oversized critters. It’s suspenseful, fun and offers up lashings of goo; indeed, much the same could be said of the film as a whole.
There’s nothing new or special here, but this cut of Mimic delivers the goods while offering tantalising glimpses of the director del Toro would go on to become.