Mimic (1997) is a horror treat that peels every bug lady’s bananas. Serving as Guillermo del Toro’s second foray into feature filmmaking, the original cut of Mimic is an early indication of the director’s ability to reflect the charm of American B-movies and over-the-top films in a way that’s both charming and masterful.
Between his work on Blade II, Hellboy, and the almost-parody premise of Pacific Rim, Guillermo has proven himself a master at balancing between the gratuitous and the sincere. His work demonstrates an ability to show bizarre yet elegant restraint in the art of presenting demons, monsters, and giant robots to viewers, in that it conveys these outlandish elements through narratives that feel fun and heartfelt. In short, he’s a masterful storyteller living in realms of fascinating sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. This is apparent in the case of Hellboy, a picture that draws on the humanity found in a demon while reveling in the potential of a production allowing for monsters of every shape and size.
True fans of del Toro are familiar with his fascination with monstrous design, perhaps either through repeated observation or by virtue of the notebooks he often alludes to in interviews – notebooks filled with bizarre ideas and sketches that serve as an elaborate backbone for many of his films. He’s someone obsessed with an alternate world, some dreamscape that either he’s designed or that he’s somehow visited by some divine grace. You see this in the way that you can look at something so hideous, yet know that del Toro’s influence lives in its complexity. A good example of this lives in Peter Jackson’s ill-fated Hobbit movies where del Toro provided a touch of his design to Middle Earth (you may have wondered where that testicle-wearing Goblin King came from).
Mimic channels del Toro’s fascination with vision in its best parts, drawing on the director’s “fetish for insects, clockwork, monsters, dark places, and unborn things.” There’s a clear sense of direction in how he dwells in the dark spaces of Mimic’s version of Manhattan. We spend much of the film underground, inside, or floating through dark spaces. It’s claustrophobic yet satisfying as you know this is where del Toro’s true strength lies.
There are moments of Mimic that look like they’ve been filmed just yesterday with how the camera moves and how the darkness is directed but, at other times, it’s glaring that this film is being dragged by the weight of its narrative. Don’t get me wrong – Mimic is fun, and it’s at its best once we fully plunge into the depths of the subterrain, but the build-up to getting us there is painful to say the least. There are countless scenes relying on the acting of Jeremy Northam and Mia Sorvino, a duo that proves competent in their chemistry but unremarkable compared to the rest of the ensemble. I had difficulty connecting with either one of their characters as del Toro continue to expose me to side stars more compelling or fascinating.
My particular favorite comes in the form of Chuy, a young boy who has the remarkable talent of mimicking footsteps with his slapping spoons, as well as identifying shoes by their distinctive sounds. Thinking back, I can’t help but feel Chuy is an incredible character that really sells the originality of Mimic. He’s someone who adds just enough of a weird flair to make it feel like you’re watching something more than a movie about giant bugs; rather, you’re watching something that is trying to be somewhat intentional in how it unfolds.
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t caught by now, Mimic is a story about big ol’ buggos. But really it’s the story of how these buggos were made to fight a disease, a la Jurassic Park science, and then evolved into human-mimicking monstrosities. It’s an idea that’s pretty ballsy in concept.
Your experience with Mimic, however, really lies in which cut you’re seeing. If it’s the original cut, you’re missing out on del Toro’s finishing touch, and you’re really watching something a tad more studio-produced. Mimic was plagued by rewrites and shameful studio decisions. For example, not only was the studio opposed to the idea of a mixed race couple being represented at the center of the film, they were equally opposed to the idea of making Josh Brolin’s character gay. It was enough to trim the fat off of Guillermo’s work until it siphoned into a movie about cockroaches and cockroaches alone.
If you’re at all shocked with these decisions, just remember that Mimic was distributed by Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax Films. Classic Weinstein.
I highly recommend going to see Mimic this week, if not for the imaginative horror of del Toro framed in a fun yet flawed ’90s film, then for the reason my interest is beyond piqued: The film is prefaced by a talk from Dr. Jerome O. Klein, Professor of Pediatrics at Boston University School of medicine. He’s going to be talking about one of my favorite subjects: insect-borne diseases!
As the old saying goes, come for the bugs… stay for the buggos.
dir. Guillermo del Toro
Screens 10/16, 7:00PM @Coolidge Corner
Part of the Ongoing Series Science on Screen