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Mimic: The Director’s Cut – film review

October 16, 2015

MIMIC

Del Toro’s second feature triumphantly reclaimed.

mimic hazmat suit

Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Screenplay by Matthew Robbins & Guillermo del Toro, based on the short story ‘Mimic’ by Donald A. Wollheim. Starring: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Josh Brolin, Charles S. Dutton, Alexander Goodwin, Giancarlo Giannini and F. Murray Abraham. Year of release: 1997/2011. Running time: 112 minutes.

Three years after a breed of genetically-engineered insects where deliberately released into the New York City sewer system (in order to eradicate plague-carrying roaches) – it is discovered the species has evolved into man-sized bugs capable of camouflaging themselves as human beings. Now the husband and wife scientists responsible, Susan Tyler and Peter Mann (Mira Sorvino and Jeremy Northam) must venture into the creatures’ subterranean labyrinth in order to locate the breeding colony before the city is overrun by a swarming horde of giant flesh-eating insects     of their own misguided creation.

At first glance Mimic may seem like an anomaly in del Toro’s impressive body of work – as it appears to lean more towards the mainstream – moreso than many of     his other films. But on closer inspection, this film is very much a del Toro movie. Not only is his mastery of craft distinctly evident, but his particular qwerks are also very much in attendance – his fascination with insects for one. His fairy tale sensibility is also present, particularly with regard to his child characters being aware of the presence of the fantastic, before the adults cotton on. Also present here is del Toro’s interest in fanciful sub cultures co-existing with humanity (albeit just below the surface) and interacting with humanity without humanity’s knowledge (something which can also be seen at play in Pan’s Labyrinth, Blade II and the Hellboy films). The only del Toro constant not really present here in Mimic is his portrayal of the monstrous as being sympathetic (which, again, was a major part of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy).

Originally published in 1950 and described by del Toro in the Blu-ray extras as being something akin to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the original short story plays more like a mystery with fantasy elements – than a sci-fi horror – and yet it is easy     to see what originally drew him to the source material. Told in first person, the tale is essentially one man’s recollections of a bizarre incident he witnessed as a grown man which also relates to an experience from his own childhood. He remembers, as a child, observing the comings and goings of a mysterious long-coated neighbor – who may or may not have been involved in nefarious activities. As the narrator is a museum curator, with an interest in entomology, we are then treated to various examples from nature of real-life insects capable of incredible mimicry; resembling their natural predators in order to survive. This then relates to the big reveal at the end of the story where the narrator describes a more recent incident where he and a policeman break into the home of the mysterious long-coated man in response to a disturbance – only to discover that the man (now dead on the floor) is not a man at     all – but a six foot tall insect with the uncanny ability to mimic human beings (its own natural predator). The mimic’s younglings, which it had been nurturing, little human-like figures, then unfold their wings and fly out the open window to greet the dawn.

Del Toro had originally intended to helm a more faithful 30 minute adaptation of Mimic as part of a three chapter anthology film called Light Years, but was then given the opprtunity to expand it into a feature (this was after having gained recognition with his Mexican-lensed, Spanish language debut Cronos in 1993). Matthew Robbins (The Sugarland Express, Dragonslayer, Crimson Peak) was enlisted to help flesh out the script in collaboration with del Toro; with uncredited contributions by John Sayles and Steven Soderbergh. Cross-cutting back and forth between the various story strands – following different characters investigating the same mystery – the tightly-honed screenplay gives each of these strands equal importance; creating a beautifully-woven tapestry which maintains our investment with each character’s involvement in the overarching story. Despite this being, for the most part, Susan and Peter’s story, del Toro does well in surrounding them with a distinctive array of supporting characters; played by some very recognizable actors. Chief among these is Josh Brolin as a Center for Disease Control officer investigating an illegal immigrant sweat shop and Charles S. Dutton (Alien 3) as a sardonically humorous subway cop, charged with guiding Northam and Brolin through the underworld (while providing much of the levity to be found in the film). As he has demonstrated in other works (most notably with Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth) del Toro shares in common with Spielberg the ability to elicit credible performances from child actors. In this case, it is nine-year-old Alexander Goodwin who does remarkably well as a shoe shiner’s autistic grandson with a penchant for identifying shoe sizes from a distance. He also has a knack for mimicing the rhythmic clicking sounds of the giant insects which, as it transpires, becomes a vitally important skill for his own survival later on. Adding gravitas to proceedings is Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus) in a small role as Susan’s mentor, Dr Gates.

Del Toro had reportedly disowned the film upon its initial theatrical release (not having final cut) after imposed studio meddling had diluted his original vision. And while this director’s cut (with an additional 6 minutes of reinstated scenes) is still missing the bleak ending originally shot by del Toro – this version is apparently a lot closer to what he had originally intended (according to his introduction on this Blu-ray release). As I haven’t viewed the theatrical cut for quite some time, I’m unsure as to what exactly has been reinstated for this director’s cut, but it certainly feels a lot less choppy and more cohesive than I remember.

The numerous animatronic creature effects supervised by Rick Lazzarini; featuring design concepts by genre legend Rob Bottin (The Howling, The Thing) are top notch and are nicely complimented with appropriate and sparingly-used CGI – which doesn’t draw attention to itself. And the cinematography by Danish lenser Dan Lausten (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Silent Hill, Crimson Peak) is beautiful to behold. Interestingly, the film was edited by editor-turned writer/director Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine 3D, Drive Angry) – who had gained prominence editing many of Wes Craven’s later films including Scream and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. And there’s no doubting this film is seamlessly edited. And I do like del Toro’s philosophy for generating suspense (which he mentions in the special feature Reclaiming Mimic) by holding on shots for as long as possible before cutting away and allowing the beats in the action to dictate the cuts – rather than just cutting for the sake of it.

The sets by David Cronenberg’s resident production designer Carol Spier are impressive in scale and highly-detailed – particularly the labyrinthine tunnels and cathedral-like spaces below ground. While the New York subway locations, with their flickering lights and bestial rail car rumblings effectively keep the viewer in a constant state of unease during the film’s second half. And the Gothic orchestral score by Marco Beltrami (Knowing, Blade II) recalls the best work of Howard Shore and is well up to his usual standard; especially in terms of augmenting a sense of unrelenting menace during the extended sequences below ground.

All in all, del Toro’s Mimic is a substantial entry in the ‘science-run-amok’ sub genre of horror films and is well worth a revisit with this officially-sanctioned director’s cut. And it’s nice to see this lesser-appreciated of del Toro’s works finally welcomed into the fold of its monstrous brethren.

Viewed on Blu-ray.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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2 Comments
  1. I do vaguely remember watching this film a long time ago and finding it was quite scary and better than your regular B grade horror/sci fi type film. Be interesting to watch the Directors Cut. Thankyou for giving us the “inside story” and focusing on the Directors, Writers & Cinematographers in your reviews, it’s something I don’t often think about when watching a film, most of the time it’s the actors that are focused on rather than the Directors, and I usually have no idea who made it. It really is a production involving a whole bunch of people and I find it interesting to read how an idea from a book, for example, was developed and became a film.

    • gregory moss permalink

      Thanks Anne-Marie! I try whenever I can to include at least some background info on whatever film I’m talking about – as the reviews I personally enjoy reading most are the ones which offer interesting little facts about the production or the people involved that I didn’t previously know about. I definitely get a bit of a rush when a new piece of info falls into place and leads to new discoveries. 🙂

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