For years director Guillermo Del Toro all-but disowned this heavily flawed 1997 film, his first English language feature. The film suffered heavy tampering by its producers and studio heads—the notorious brothers Weinstein—and it wasn’t until 2014 that a director’s cut finally appeared. This version is better than the original theatrical cut, but it’s still problematic.
On his Blu-ray audio commentary Guillermo Del Toro details the many, many battles he fought during the making of MIMIC—some of which, he claims, he can’t speak about for fear of litigation. (Further dirt on the subject of MIMIC’S filming can be found in Peter Biskind’s 2004 volume DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES, a book whose accuracy has repeatedly been called into question but which actually confirms many of Del Toro’s allegations.)
The film, unsurprisingly, wasn’t much of a success, although it did spawn two straight-to-DVD sequels in 2001 and ‘03, the latter of which Del Toro claims to actually like.
A cockroach-spread epidemic ravages New York City. Dr. Susan Tyler, an entomologist, creates the so-called “Judas Breed” of cockroach, which is genetically designed to be sterile, and succeeds in eradicating the disease carrying roaches.
Three years later a series of murders occur around the city, committed by an unidentified something that emerges from underground. Around the same time a couple kids bring Susan a weird bug found in a subway tunnel, a bug that appears to be an embryonic form of Susan’s Judas breed. She commences a search of the NYC subway tunnels for other weird bug specimens.
Further killings follow, including those of the two kids who provided the weird bug, and Susan is snatched off a subway platform by what initially looks like a man but turns out to be a giant flying cockroach–a direct offspring, in fact, of the Judas Breed. Susan finds herself in the cockroach peoples’ lair, and joins up with several other trapped people, including a distraught father whose son is lost in the underground, a transit cop and Susan’s own husband.
Here, during a brief respite from the insect peoples’ onslaught, Susan reveals a long held suspicion about the creatures: that in the manner of many insect species they’ve learned to mimic their main predator, which happens to be us. She elects to fight back by mimicking the Mimics—and leading one of the creatures down a subway track toward an oncoming train!
Of the two versions of MIMIC the director’s cut is obviously the superior one. It’s marked by a highly extravagant visual style, with extremely fluid camerawork and a gorgeous multi-hued visual palette by cinematographer Dan Launstein. Del Toro also has a love of esoteric detail, such as an autistic kid who witnesses the killings of the early scenes and has his own unique take on the perpetrator, and also a lot assorted religious iconography (meant, apparently, to suggest that man’s place in God’s affections is being usurped). The result is a film whose conflicted shoot—a tug-of-war between producers who wanted a straightforward giant bug movie and Del Toro, who was after something more stately and intelligent—is all-too evident, even in Del Toro’s preferred version.
Especially noticeable problems include the clumsy, choppy opening montage (which follows an opening credits sequence that would be impressive if it weren’t so close to that of SEVEN) and the chaotic action sequences that come to pack the second half. Action really isn’t Del Toro’s forte, and the succession of ALIENS-esque action-suspense sequences, set in disconcertingly well-lit subway tunnels, don’t work nearly as well as they should. It certainly doesn’t help matters that none of the human characters are very interesting, with the lead, played by Mira Sorvino, distinguished only by the fact that she’s pretty.
The ALIENS motif extends to the humanoid bug monsters, the most prominent of which is credited as “Long John” (and played partially by Del Toro’s favored monster performer Doug Jones), which aren’t very striking. To be fair, Del Toro claims the creatures, which look like the Chris Walas created critter from Cronenberg’s THE FLY but with cockroach features, were an unfortunate compromise between his wishes and those of his producers—much like the film overall.
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Producers: Bob Weinstein, B.J. Rack, Ole Bornedal
Screenplay: Matthew Robbins, Guillermo Del Toro
(Based on a story by Donald A. Wollheim)
Cinematography: Dan Launstein
Editing: Patrick Lussier
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Alexander Goodwin, Giancarlo Giannini, Charles S. Dutton, Josh Brolin, Alix Koromzay, F. Murray Abraham, James Costa, Javon Barnwell, Norman Reedus, Pak-K Wong Ho, Glen Bang, Margaret Ma, Warna Fisher