If you were a horror fan in the 90s and into the early 2000s, there were three constants in your life: Dimension Films, meta slashers, and endless box covers featuring photogenic actors standing in front of a black background, aka the Scream knock-off posters:
Often times, what happened on-screen in these films mirrored the transparent mimicry of their posters: everyone was busy chasing after Scream. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson started it; filmmakers like Jim Gillespie (I Know What You Did Last Summer), Jamie Blanks (Urban Legends), Steve Miner (Halloween H20), and James Wong (Final Destination) followed. However, not every black-postered 90s horror movie was a true Scream rip-off, and not every director who worked on them was destined to a career of minor notoriety. In fact, one director, Guillermo del Toro, caught up in the post-Scream craze now has an Oscar. That was for 2017’s Shape of Water, a monster movie fairy tale.
Back in 1997, del Toro made another kind of monster movie, Mimic, but the true monster on that film set was Bob Weinstein. The bullying producer eventually took the film away from del Toro – who only had 1993’s Spanish-language indie horror flick Cronos to his name at that point. This resulted in del Toro more or less disowning Mimic for over a decade. In 2011, he finally made peace with it by releasing a long-overdue Director’s Cut.
Back in the day, the world of mouth on Mimic was so toxic that I skipped the film entirely, which means I have never seen Bob Weinstein’s version. Those who have seen both argue the plot differences between the two are actually minor but the sound and video quality of the Director’s Cut is so superior it is the only version worth watching now. So, that’s the one I went with, and I ultimately found a flawed, but undeniably well put-together monster flick.
What’s It About?
Scientists make killer bugs on accident. The killer bugs, well, they go about killing. Much underground tunnel fighting ensues.
More details, please.
Ok, so there’s this virus killing kids in New York. It’s caused by cockroaches. Very sad. Drs. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) and Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino, fresh off her Oscar win) – a CDC director and entomologist – team up to play god and genetically engineer a super cockroach called the “Judas breed” to wipe out the virus-carrying little buggers. It works like a charm, and the good doctors quickly fall in love and marry.
Three years later, nature finally fights back, punishing anyone who would dare play God. A newly mutated version of the Judas breed is back, larger and deadlier than ever, and it’s killing people in the sewers. Peter, Susan, you got some ‘splaining to do!
A beat cop (Josh Brolin), metro worker (Charles S. Dutton), and an immigrant shoe shiner (Giancarlo Gianni) and his Autistic ward named Chuy (Alexander Goodwin) get sucked into the story after that.
Why I Watched It
After The Host, I wanted to do another monster movie. Plus, as an added bonus both Bong Joon-ho and Guillermo del Toro know what it’s like to engage in a stand-off with a Weinstein over who gets the final cut – Joon-ho with Snowpiercer, del Toro with Mimic.
There is far more of an Aliens vibe to Mimic than I expected – not so much the Vietnam allegory part of Aliens, more the commentary on motherhood part:
After the three-year time jump, Sorvino’s ultimate journey is coming to terms with her own creation while also coping with her ongoing inability to conceive a child. When the plot forces a surrogate child into her life – Chuy, first assumed murdered by the monster but actually just hiding in the sewer – you’re damn right the tiger mom in her comes out in full force. Plus, like Aliens, there is a climactic moment involving a hero, a room full of hatchlings, and a fiercely protective/physically domineering guardian.
This isn’t del Toro in full Cameron mode, though. Instead, it’s perhaps one of the examples of the ways in which Mimic – wait for it – mimics the conventions of an American monster movie. As Kim Newman argued in Nightmare Movies, “A feisty scientist character gets dragged through the muck, self-sacrificing eccentrics save the world, people crawl around dark tunnels with special-effects monsters in pursuit.” Outside of those familiar trappings, Mimic has a shape and mood all its own, del Toro’s genius on early display. Again, Newman: “Strikingly theatrical images turn makeshift clinics or abandoned subway tunnels into post-industrial gothic cathedrals.”
Beyond that, del Toro displays a rather disciplined slow rollout of the monster, presenting it in gradual glimpses before ever giving us a look at the full thing. His creature effects team turns in some high quality work in this department, translating del Toro’s vision of a trenchcoated insect monster prowling the dregs and sewers of New York into a Cronenbergian nightmare machine.
Even later in the story, after the “so that’s what the monsters looks like” cat is out of the bag, del Toro knows to still pull back. For example, when the story reaches a moment where the heroes are being swarmed by giant insects del Toro films it as a claustrophobic nailbiter with the camera stuck inside an old rail car as unseen monsters beat down from the outside. Little touches like that abound throughout Mimic, elevating it above the standard fare from the era.
That all being said, as a late-90s horror movie there are some things not even del Toro could avoid, such as early experiments with CGI which have now aged quite poorly. Mimic mostly keeps this to a minimum, but there are still a couple of really bad CGI moments. Plus, there is a tacked-on Hollywood ending which plays as a tad forced.
Did It Scare Me?
Fairly early on, the monster kills two kids, and while we only hear or glimpse in shadow what’s happening to them it’s still a genuinely disturbing sequence.
Where to Stream
The Director’s Cut is currently available to stream on multiples services, including Amazon and Vudu.
31 Days of Halloween So Far:
- Day 1: One Cut of the Dead
- Day 2: Effects
- Day 3: Microwave Massacre
- Day 4: The Wind
- Day 5: Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key
- Day 6: Black Cat (1981)
- Day 7: In the Tall Grass
- Day 8: Creepshow (2019)
- Day 9: Thirst (1979)
- Day 10: Near Dark
- Day 11: Anna and The Apocalypse
- Day 12: Little Monsters
- Day 13: Rare Exports
- Day 14: Larry Cohen’s The Stuff
- Day 15: John Carl Buechler’s Cellar Dweller
- Day 16: Bone Tomahawk
- Day 17: The Host
Next Up: Catching up with a girl named Wichita