Review: “Mimic” (Film)

Well, for the next review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d take a look at yet another monster movie. But, before I begin, I should probably point out that this film review series will probably go on a brief hiatus until at least the 3rd July (due to other articles/reviews that I’ve got planned for the next few days).

Anyway, the next film from the 1990s I’ll be looking at is a Guillermo Del Toro film from 1997 called “Mimic”. This is one of those films that I watched on VHS during my mid-teens but haven’t re-watched since then. So, when I saw that second-hand DVDs of it were going cheap online, I decided to take another look at it.

So, let’s take a look at “Mimic”. Needless to say, this review contains SPOILERS. I should also point out that the film contains some FLICKERING LIGHTS too (although I don’t know if they’re fast or intense enough to be an issue).

“Mimic” begins in New York, where a mysterious and dangerous epidemic is spreading amongst the local children.

Two members of the CDC called Dr. Susan Tyler (played by Mira Sorvino) and Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam), discover that the disease is being spread by cockroaches.

So, Dr. Tyler begins to genetically engineer a species of infertile hybrid insect called the “Judas Breed” which gives off an enzyme that causes the cockroaches’ metabolisms to speed up to a dangerous level. After releasing a swarm of these bugs into the New York subway, the cockroaches are eliminated and the spread of the disease is quickly stopped in it’s tracks.

Well, that was a short film! Huh? There’s more…

Three years later, a priest is murdered by a mysterious assailant – with the only witness being an autistic boy called Chuy who lives in the house across the street with his grandfather. Whilst the police investigate the murder (and some mysterious droppings found on the ceiling of the church), two children visit Dr. Tyler with a box containing an unusual insect that they’ve caught.

After some haggling, she agrees to pay them $10 for it and asks them to look for egg sacs belonging to the insect. But, when she opens the box, she finds that it is still alive and – after a brief scuffle – she manages to impale it on a dissection table.

Yay! Science!

A closer examination reveals that it’s a larger version of the Judas Breed that seems to be capable of reproduction. But, before she can examine the bug too closely, a mysterious person breaks into her lab and steals it.

However, a while later, a friend of Tyler’s lab assistant finds an even larger bug at a nearby sewage facility and, after performing an autopsy on it, the CDC scientists deduce that there is a colony of highly-evolved insects hiding in the subway tunnels beneath New York….

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it’s probably one of the most “serious” monster movies that I’ve ever seen.

Whilst most monster movies are at least a little bit tongue-in-cheek, “Mimic” is a brooding, sombre, dark, grim and bleak horror film. Whilst it isn’t “jump out of your seat” frightening, the oppressive emotional tone, grim surroundings and creeping uneasiness of this film really set it apart from the average monster movie.

Yes, this isn’t one of those “fun” monster movies. It’s something a bit more gothic…

In addition to the rather dark themes within this film (such as the unintended side-effects of scientific research, children being harmed, horror lurking in plain sight etc…), the grim emotional tone is also compounded through some wonderfully gloomy lighting and lots of claustrophobic, old and dilapidated set design.

Even the scenes set during the day can often look at least slightly gloomy and/or ancient.

Seriously, the lighting here is wonderfully gloomy in only the way that a film from the 1990s can be. However, whilst this style of lighting is just something that looks really cool in other films, the almost constant use of this type of gothic lighting in “Mimic” quickly turns it from something beautiful into something much heavier, creepier and more oppressive. It really adds a lot to the grungy, grim atmosphere of the film.

Still, some of the lighting looks really beautiful.

But, despite the aesthetically pleasing orange/blue colour scheme that the film’s lighting uses, it still somehow looks really heavy and gothic.

The film’s story and pacing are also fairly good too. Although the film starts out with a number of story threads, they all gradually converge together fairly well as the film progresses. Likewise, although the film has a very slightly slower pace than you might expect from a monster movie, this fits in very well with the heavy, gothic and sombre atmosphere of the film. Best of all, at 101 minutes in length, this film is still just about short enough to remain focused and compelling throughout.

Likewise, the film’s characters are all really good. Many of the characters are somewhat understated and realistic, which really helps to immerse the audience into the events of the film.

In other words, it’s a horror movie where the main characters are sensible people.

Even when the main characters are confronted with the giant insects, they will often react to this in a realistic way (eg: hiding, planning, fighting only when absolutely necessary etc..). Even during the film’s two most dramatic action sequences, you really get the sense that Tyler and Mann are only resorting to such spectacular heroics because they genuinely think that they won’t survive (and either want to take the insects with them and/or protect the life of someone else).

Although the film’s main twist is probably at least vaguely well-known by now, it is still a surprisingly inventive – if far-fetched – one. Basically, due to their accelerated evolution, the bugs are now the size of humans. And, as both a protection and hunting mechanism, they have developed the ability to crudely mimic the appearance of humans by using a bony, skull-like mask that grows from two of their legs.

And, given how gloomy the film is, this disguise probably actually works.

As the title suggests, this theme of mimicry runs throughout the film – whether it is the fact that the geneticists try to mimic nature near the beginning of the film, or the fact that Chuy often tries to communicate with the giant bugs by mimicking their strange chattering noises (which, in turn, could be their attempt at imitating the cries of those they devour), or the fact that the main characters’ main defence against the giant insects is fooling them by using a scent gland from a dead insect etc..

This film is about the imperfections and dangers inherent in copying something you don’t understand (eg: Chuy thinks that the insects are friendly because he can “talk” with them, but he soon learns otherwise when his grandfather is devoured by one of them). This theme also evokes Freud’s concept of “The Uncanny” quite often too and this theme of imperfect copying is one of the things that really adds a lot of horror to the film.

The special effects in this film are surprisingly good, considering that it is a mid-budget film from a little over two decades ago. First of all, the pyrotechnics in one scene are absolutely spectacular.

So many explosions! I can’t believe it isn’t a Michael Bay film!

Plus, although there is an obvious CGI insect in one scene, many of the effects are gooey, slimy and/or grotesque practical effects. This really helps out a lot with the “gross out” elements of the film’s horror and it really helps to create the feeling that the characters are stepping into an alien-like insect colony when they venture into the stygian depths of New York’s abandoned subway tunnels.

Ah, good old 90s CGI – so wonderfully cartoonish.

Seriously, these practical effects look so much creepier!

And, yes, this film is filled with slime, gunge, gunk, ichor and sludge aplenty!

Musically, this film is reasonably good and, although I didn’t really notice the music that much, it certainly seemed to add to the film’s brooding, creepy and grim atmosphere.

All in all, this is a very well-made horror movie. It contains lots of thematic complexity, realistic characters, atmosphere and creepiness. It is a very unique and imaginative film that gets as much of it’s horror from the general atmosphere and emotional tone of the film as it does from the actual “monsters” in the film.

However, it isn’t really the kind of fun, cheesy monster movie that I really enjoy. Yes, it has a lot of artistic merit and it is very well-made, well-written and well-directed. But, it isn’t really “fun” in the way that a monster movie should be. Still, if you want a more “serious” example of the genre, then you can’t go wrong with “Mimic”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and half on artistic and narrative grounds. But, again, it isn’t a “fun” monster movie.