Sci-Fi Nerd: Commentary, reflection, and accolades from a fan’s point of view on all things sci-fi and fantasy,
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 severely 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 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 here: dark, poorly-lit environments are in abundance, and the addition of gigantic creepy bugs that rivals the xenomorphs from that other sci-fi horror franchise; this mix 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.” It 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) called the Judas Breed. They are a giant 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 gets quickly abated. The released population was all-female and designed with a lifespan of only a few months to 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 the discovery that 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. It turns out the insect is an infant version of the engineered Judas Bug species. As more gets revealed about them, we learn they have evolved into a giant version of their former selves that have developed a near-human intelligence along with an ingenious 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 dangerous species that could ultimately compete with humanity for the food chain’s top spot.
Things begin to escalate as a search for more knowledge about what is going on with the mysterious species begins. A sub-plot starts with a poor working-class immigrant and his autistic son, who has a sound-based rapport with the creatures.
More characters get 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 a good working knowledge of the aging system of tunnels beneath the city. Both join the search.
Susan gets 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 its climax as Susan’s rescue begins, 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.