Guillermo del Toro's "Mimic" Is a Creepy Crawly Classic
"Mimic" (1997) - Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro is revered among horror/fantasy film fans nowadays, but two decades ago, he was just another young director trying to get a break in Hollywood. After some film festival success with his debut Spanish-language feature, 1993's Cronos, del Toro was hired by Miramax Films to helm his first English-language film, the 1997 giant-bugs-running-amuck-in-New-York-City epic Mimic. The movie is a pretty decent slab of urban sci-fi horror, but there was supposedly lots of behind the scenes drama during filming. The young, inexperienced del Toro reportedly clashed frequently with Miramax bigwigs, and the studio heavily edited the film against his wishes prior to its theatrical release. The movie didn't make much of a splash at the box office, and del Toro reportedly "disowned" it for years afterward.
Of course, Guillermo del Toro's career took off shortly after the release of Mimic. He's helmed such critical and box office hits as Blade II, the Hellboy franchise, Pacific Rim, and the award-winning Pan's Labyrinth. He also came close to directing The Hobbit until the constant, lengthy delays in the start of production forced him to hand the project back to Peter Jackson. In addition, del Toro has served as a producer on a wide slate of horror and fantasy films for other directors, including Mama, The Orphanage, Splice, and the remake of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.
...so after all the accolades and awards, how does Guillermo's barely-remembered giant-bug movie hold up? Believe it or not, pretty well. Guillermo may not consider it "his film," but Mimic is still a worthy, creepy, gooey little thriller that contains almost all of his directorial trademarks—insects, religious imagery, small children in peril, and lots of dark, shadowy, wet tunnels. Everything you love about del Toro can be found right here.
In Mimic's effective opening scene, entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) is taken on a tour of a New York City children's hospital. We learn that hundreds of Manhattan's children have fallen victim to an outbreak of "Strickler's Disease," a deadly virus that is being spread throughout the city by the common cockroach. Tyler is recruited to help combat the threat, and she cooks up a genetically engineered super bug - dubbed "The Judas Breed" -- which is programmed to seek and destroy the roach population. The Judas Breed bugs are let loose in New York's Subway system, and the cockroach problem is soon eradicated. Dr. Tyler is treated as a heroine, and since the Judas Breed was programmed to die off automatically when its job was done, everyone thinks the worst is over. Ummmm... not quite.
Three years later, numerous reports come in of mysterious disappearances in the city subways, and Tyler and her husband Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) are called in to investigate. A couple of bug-hunting kids also bring Tyler a live, infant Judas Breed insect - three years after they were all supposed to be dead. After crawling through a number of disgustingly drippy subway tunnels and abandoned access vents, Tyler and Mann eventually discover the horrible truth - that the Judas Breed is not only alive and well under the city, but it's multiplying like crazy and growing to human-sized proportions. When Tyler laments to her mentor, Dr. Gates (F. Murray Abraham) that she can't understand what went wrong with her Judas Breed bugs, because they had all died "in the lab," he replies mournfully, "you let them out into the world... and the world is a much bigger lab."
Eventually Tyler, Mann, and an unlucky transit police officer (the great Charles S. Dutton, in a mostly thankless comic-relief role) are besieged by the Judas Breed creatures while exploring a disused subway tunnel and wind up trapped in an abandoned subway car. Here we learn that not only are the Judas Breed bugs now human-sized, they have also evolved a nifty "camouflage" that looks like a human "face" (which, of course, splits open to reveal the Bug Beneath in lovingly gooey detail). Of course, our heroes have to eradicate the Judas Breed's "nest" before the bugs can reach the surface and take over the world. I will leave it up to the viewer to find out if they are successful, but I will say that despite its seemingly-happy ending, Mimic inspired two additional direct-to-video sequels, so maybe they should've used a bigger can of Raid.
Summing it up...
Mimic may not be the most original flick to come down the pike (it's essentially an urban take on Alien) but what it lacks in innovation, it makes up with style. The underground tunnels and abandoned subway stations are impressively detailed and give the flick a nice claustrophobic feel. The Judas Breed creatures are suitably nightmarish boogers, composed of lovingly rendered antennae, legs, and goo. It's puzzling to think that Mira Sorvino went from winning an Oscar (for Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite in 1995) to starring in a Giant Bug Movie in only two years' time (maybe she needed a new agent?), but giving credit where it's due, she gives her all to her role as the imperiled heroine and somehow still manages to look hot even when she's crawling around in dark, slimy tunnels covered in mud and bug bits.
Those with insect-o-phobia will probably want to pass on this flick, but in my book Mimic is an underrated film that deserves a second look. In Hollywood, as in anything else, the great ones have to start somewhere, and with Mimic, Guillermo del Toro got off to a pretty damn good start... and he's only gotten better with time.
© 2012 Keith Abt