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Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Guillermo del Toro, Donald A. Wollheim (short story “Mimic”), Matthew Robbins (screen story)
Stars: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Alexander Goodwin, Charles S. Dutton, Josh Brolin, Giancarlo Giannini
Runtime: 112 min (director’s cut)
Guillermo del Toro’s first movie made with a major American studio is a solid effort that is unfairly underrated.
Mimic is a stylish, gorgeous, precursor of del Toro’s trademark themes and directing style. It’s one of my favorite sci-fi horror movies, and that is high praise coming from someone who, with only a few exceptions, is not really a horror movie fan. For me it’s about the story, and this is a good one. All the usual horror movie tropes are on full display in this one: dark, poorly-lit environments are in abundance, and with the addition of gigantic creepy bugs, it all adds up to a film that achieves its goals.
Here’s a brief synopsis: The story begins with a grim scene of children in a crowded hospital ward, sick and dying from an ailment called “Stickler’s Disease”. Its discovered cockroaches are spreading the deadly illness. In response entomologist Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) uses genetic engineering to create what her colleague, and husband Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) and she call the Judas breed, a large insect looking like a cross between a termite and a praying mantis that releases an enzyme that kills off the disease-carrying roaches by speeding up their metabolism. The Judas breed works spectacularly and the crisis is abated. The released population was all-female and designed with a lifespan of only a few months, so that it would only last one generation.
Problems begin three years later, after two enterprising kids sell a “weird bug” they found in the subway to Susan. That’s when it’s discovered the new bugs didn’t die as planned, but instead thrived and procreated in NY’s underground system of tunnels and infrastructure. Not only that, but with no predators that prey on them the bugs have also grown in size and escalating numbers.
As she examines her purchase, an adult version of the now evolved insects pays Susan a stealthy visit and rescues the specimen. Turns out the insect is an infant version of the engineered Judas Bug species. As more is revealed about them, we learn they have evolved into a giant version of their former selves that have developed a clever natural means of survival that camouflages their appearance, which, from a distance, gives them an almost human-like appearance. Along with their ability to fly, this makes them a formidable species that could ultimately compete with humanity for the top spot on the food chain.
Things begin to escalate as a search for more knowledge about what is going on with the mysterious species begins. A sub-plot is introduced about a poor working class immigrant and his autistic son, who has a sound-based rapport with the creatures.
More characters are introduced in the form of a policeman friend of Susan’s husband (Josh Brolin as Josh), and an old subway cop (Charles S. Dutton as Officer Leonard Norton) with an good working knowledge of the aging system of tunnels beneath the city. Both join the search.
Susan is grabbed by one of the insects which seem to possess an uncanny intelligence of what they need to do to ensure their survival. Their population growth has reached a tipping point, and they must migrate to start a new colony in upstate NY (where else?). The story reaches it’s climax as Susan’s rescue is initiated, and a battle ensues with the insect’s alpha male to end the migration of this threat to the survival of humanity that must be stopped at all cost.
The movie succeeds on several levels: A good, and interesting Sci-Fi premise, combined with a creepiness factor that rivals the more famous “Alien” franchise. As a solid entry into the genre this film earns the right to be considered a modern classic that’s fun to re-watch over, and over again.