Written by Matthew Robbins and Guillermo del Toro
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro was a fresh face in Hollywood in the late 1990s. He’d received acclaim for his debut Spanish-language feature Cronos (1993) and was snatched up by Miramax to helm their horror blockbuster Mimic. It seemed like a decent fit for the filmmaker. Del Toro is a professed horror lover, and Cronos played with genre tropes to create something fresh and original. The story of Mimic is a traditional monster movie but with some modern threads woven throughout. However, the studio’s will was more substantial than any clout del Toro had amassed at the time, so we ended up with an okay horror movie that does not do justice to the director’s vision.
At some point in the near future, cockroaches are spreading a crippling disease through Manhattan that primarily affects children. Dr. Peter Mann, who is with the CDC, reaches out to entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) to help him genetically engineer an insect that can help wipe out the cockroaches. The result is the Judas breed, a mix of termite and mantid DNA that secretes a fluid that will accelerate cockroach metabolism that they starve to death within minutes. The cockroaches are wiped out, the city is saved, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Three years later, Peter, now married to Susan, is called in when a human trafficking ring of Chinese immigrants is uncovered in a building basement. Peter discovers signs of something else down there while Susan is brought a strange bug by some entrepreneurial youths. It turns out to be a Judas breed, which should be impossible because they were designed to die out within six months, and none of the females had reproductive organs. In the background are looming figures, seemingly watching these people move closer to discovering the truth.
The idea of Mimic is pretty good, the plot hook that leads to the creation of the Judas breed is creative, and the evolutionary path the insects go down is also very intriguing. It feels significantly influenced by Jurassic Park with the whole “Man playing God” angle and how evolution finds a way to work around our restraints. And that’s ultimately the problem with Mimic is that it borrow so heavily and so obviously from other better movies, both in its plots and its aesthetics. I watched the Director’s Cut, and it didn’t develop much of anything more in-depth than I imagine the original did. We’re given a quintet of characters in the middle of the second act, trapped in the subways and sewers, who have to outthink man-sized insects. While this could be fodder for some inventive, innovative sequences, we get the same sort of cliche moments you can predict.
There’s a Black NYPD transit officer who gets injured so badly he will be a burden to the rest of the group. So, to help out his friends, he stumbles down a subway tunnel singing gospel songs to lure the monsters away. While you may have not seen this exact scene in other movies, you have undoubtedly seen moments like this in so many 1990s/early 2000s horror/science fiction movies. You also have a boy on the autism spectrum who is an expert in shoes and carries around a pair of spoons he uses to mimic the heels’ sounds on the pavement. A “magical autist” is another of those cliches of the era we seem to be moving past in media. It’s embarrassing now to see a character like that pop up in a movie as it’s incredibly reductive to how diverse people on the spectrum are. I guess we have Rain Man to blame for that one and how executives misunderstood it?
Del Toro does his damndest to inject his personal aesthetics into the film, but it appears to be a losing battle. The Judas breed’s design definitely feels like something he had heavy input in, and the design of the catacomb-like abandoned subway station is another touch. But when the storyline is so hackneyed, those production design elements get quickly forgotten. I would argue this is another instance of the Weinstein brothers imposing their will and ending up with a mediocre final product. They were pretty much squandering any momentum Miramax had at the time, and by 2010 Disney was offloading the company to an investment group. Mimic is a pretty standard example of what horror was like going into the new millennium, heavily inspired by music videos and other better movies.