Film Reviews

31 Days of Halloween: Mimic: The Director’s Cut

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:

Other examples: Disturbing Behavior, The Faculty, Dracula 2000, Urban Legends: Final Cut.

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.

Did I Like It?

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.

Mimic vs. The Fly

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:

Next Up: Catching up with a girl named Wichita

12 comments

  1. I have only watched the Director’s Cut because I bought the Blu-Ray a couple of years ago. I think I got to it so late because del Toro had success with everything after Hellboy. I had mainly thought of him as doing that “just okay” Blade movie.

    *cough* early role of Norman Reedus

    Do you think this was ahead of its time by having designer infertile insects? Maybe it’s just me. Australia has a lot of foreign species that were introduced to an ecosystem and subsequently devastated things. eg camels, cane toads, rabbits. Also these days, Monsanto gets lots of criticism for selling infertile seeds and I listened to a Neil Young song about it.

    I don’t know enough about autism to comment on autism’s portrayal in film.

    Mira Sorvino was really good in this. This must have been one of the last films before Weinstein had her blacklisted from starring roles.

    1. I’d say Mimic was ahead of its time in a lot of ways. As I highlighted in the intro, it was a member of horror’s post-Scream black one-sheet brigade but it actually has little in common with the other horror movies of that time. We were trapped in such a slasher phase at that time that monster movies struggled to register, and obviously, del Toro was merely warming up for the monster movie genius he would later unfurl once he returned to Mexico and made films like Pans Labyrinth. I do think Mimic’s best attribute is its idea of a monster that has adapted itself to look human and even has lungs. However, the film does, to me, look like a Hollywoodized version of del Toro, as if you can see the weight around his neck.

      As for the actual specifics of the designer insects and whether Mimic knowingly called that, I really don’t know. Since I’m watching and reviewing a film a day this month I’m not doing as much research about each project as I normally would. My awareness of Mimic’s production history is that it began its life as a Donald Wollheim short story and del Toro and Matthew Robinson adapted it. I don’t know if they were reading the tea leaves and projecting a horror scenario of where designer insects could go or if it was just a more generic “humans play god, nature punishes them for it” situation.

      I also agree about Mira Sorvino. I didn’t completely buy her and Northam as the central couple. There didn’t seem to be much of a spark between them. However, she plays her role throughout the film well. From what I read, she is possibly the only reason del Toro wasn’t simply outright fired from the project. She’d just won an Oscar for Mighty Aphrodite AND she was Tarantino’s girlfriend at the time. So, when the Weinsteins started pushing del Toro around she’s the one who stood up for him and threatened to walk if they didn’t back off. However, there was only so far they were willing to be pushed back – being bullies and all, and my memory of the #MeToo testimonials is that Sorvino’s blacklisting wasn’t too long after this. If you look at her filmography after Mimic, it’s not like she didn’t work, but it’s not really the trajectory of an Oscar winner who should have been on the rise. Instead, it’s a lot of “I don’t even remember that one” or “never heard of it” movies.

  2. > We were trapped in such a slasher phase at that time that monster movies struggled to register, and obviously, del Toro was merely warming up for the monster movie genius he would later unfurl once he returned to Mexico and made films like Pans Labyrinth.

    It wasn’t a good period for monster films. We did get “Jeepers Creepers” in 2001 but the real life monster was the director.

    > I do think Mimic’s best attribute is its idea of a monster that has adapted itself to look human and even has lungs.

    I hate cockroaches. I’ve tried to down them so many times via the sink then remember they don’t have lungs.

    > However, the film does, to me, look like a Hollywoodized version of del Toro, as if you can see the weight around his neck.

    It does but it’s still cool.

    > As for the actual specifics of the designer insects and whether Mimic knowingly called that, I really don’t know. Since I’m watching and reviewing a film a day this month I’m not doing as much research about each project as I normally would. My awareness of Mimic’s production history is that it began its life as a Donald Wollheim short story and del Toro and Matthew Robinson adapted it. I don’t know if they were reading the tea leaves and projecting a horror scenario of where designer insects could go or if it was just a more generic “humans play god, nature punishes them for it” situation.

    I had never read the short story but was aware of it from reading the Wikipedia article on the film. A little digging and it’s part of a collection at:
    https://archive.org/details/Avon_Fantasy_Reader_03_1947 Wow. 1947
    I’ll read it after I finish reading “Greetings from Bury Park” that was adapted into “Blinded by the Light”.

    > If you look at her filmography after Mimic, it’s not like she didn’t work, but it’s not really the trajectory of an Oscar winner who should have been on the rise. Instead, it’s a lot of “I don’t even remember that one” or “never heard of it” movies.

    The only one I remember was “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion”. It was a fun movie but she would have done better if the Weinsteins weren’t such creeps.

    1. “We did get “Jeepers Creepers” in 2001 but the real life monster was the director.”

      Sigh. So true. That has kind of poisoned what is otherwise a fairly solid monster movie with slasher-like tendencies (e.g., the primarily teen cast).

      “I hate cockroaches. I’ve tried to down them so many times via the sink then remember they don’t have lungs.”

      This will probably speak poorly of me, but until watching Mimic I either didn’t know or more likely learned back in school but had long since forgotten that cockroaches don’t have lungs.

      ” A little digging and it’s part of a collection at:
      https://archive.org/details/Avon_Fantasy_Reader_03_1947 Wow. 1947
      I’ll read it after I finish reading “Greetings from Bury Park” that was adapted into “Blinded by the Light”.”

      Agreed. Wow indeed. Pretty cool ideas for 1947. Also, I quite liked Blinded by the Light. Others have knocked it for being coying, sentimental, and ultimately an insubstantial story about a fanboy coming to terms with life and art in his corner of the world, but I found it quite inspiring, actually. I have, however, heard that the book is better. Don’t know if that’s true.

      “The only one I remember was “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion”. It was a fun movie but she would have done better if the Weinsteins weren’t such creeps.”

      That’s just it, though – Romy and Michelle actually came out four months before Mimic. So, in roughly an 18-month span she went from accepting her Oscar for Mighty Aphrodite to starring in a critically-liked, cult classic comedy co-starring one of the actresses from the biggest show on TV and then appearing in a horror movie for Dimension, which then seemed like a bonafide hitmaker after Scream. Neither Romy & Michelle nor Mimic did much at the box office, but it was hardly a career-ender for Sorvino. She should have had plenty of other chances, but when you look at the filmography she mostly went right back to the indie scene and even did some international co-productions like the Korean drama Too Tired to Die. Her most notable mainstream film after Mimic was probably At First Sight, which I remember as being a rather unfortunate rom-com opposite Val Kilmer. Over the past decade, she’s done a lot of TV. Obviously actors can sometimes pick the wrong roles or be misled by poor management, but I’d say there’s good evidence there that the Weinsteins held her back.

  3. > This will probably speak poorly of me, but until watching Mimic I either didn’t know or more likely learned back in school but had long since forgotten that cockroaches don’t have lungs.

    I didn’t know until a few years ago so there’s no shame.

    > Agreed. Wow indeed. Pretty cool ideas for 1947. Also, I quite liked Blinded by the Light. Others have knocked it for being coying, sentimental, and ultimately an insubstantial story about a fanboy coming to terms with life and art in his corner of the world, but I found it quite inspiring, actually. I have, however, heard that the book is better. Don’t know if that’s true.

    I’ll comment on the film in 10 days. So far, I really like the book. The Springsteen fanboism isn’t too bad. A lot of the book is just about him being a Pakistanian-born UK kid and adult who names his chapters in life with Springsteen song titles. Bruce is hovering there in the background but so is life in general.

    > Her most notable mainstream film after Mimic was probably At First Sight, which I remember as being a rather unfortunate rom-com opposite Val Kilmer.

    I never saw that. Mmmm… Val Kilmer was great in “Top Secret”.

    > Over the past decade, she’s done a lot of TV. Obviously actors can sometimes pick the wrong roles or be misled by poor management, but I’d say there’s good evidence there that the Weinsteins held her back.

    Doesn’t she also have testimony from people stating that?

    1. Good to know about the book.

      “Doesn’t she also have testimony from people stating that?”

      Yeah. She doesn’t need someone like me to corrobate her story. Was just saying that even without further evidence all you would need to do is look at her IMDB page and sense something didn’t seem right. Considering how often that statement can also be made of other Hollywood actresses whose careers never went as expected you do wonder how many have suffered poor choices/management vs. got blacklisted for refusing to play the casting couch game.

    1. Thanks. “Infamous disembodied floating heads” Lol. Great way of putting it. Listen, I saw most of those movies back in the day, and not one of them had actual disembodied floating heads at the end. Those posters/box covers lied, man.

    1. That is kind of an everlasting truth of film fandom. Whether it’s when single-screen cineplexes ruled, the drive-in flourished, the multiplex dominated, the video store beckoned, or VOD/streaming distracted, whatever point at film history you’re living through you are pretty much guaranteed to get suckered in by something that is a much cooler poster than it is a movie. Heck, Cannon Films made an art out of that kind of deception in the 80s with their “let’s just take an impressive movie poster to Cannes, sell it to theater owners, and then go write an actual script and make the movie.”

      1. LOL. Yog from 1970 comes to mind. Denied the giant space octopus “gripping” the Earth!!

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