“A disease carried by common cockroaches is killing Manhattan children. In an effort to stop the epidemic an entomologist, Susan Tyler, creates a mutant breed of insect that secretes a fluid to kill the roaches. This mutant breed was engineered to die after one generation, but three years later Susan finds out that the species has survived and evolved into a large, gruesome monster that can mimic human form.” (courtesy IMDB)
Following up a debut feature as assured and perversely stylish as Cronos (1993) was always going to be a tough one for Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, whose control over every element of that refreshingly original vampire movie helped create a deeply personal and innovative work. Del Toro first got involved into film-making when he was about eight years old and studied special effects and make-up with Dick Smith. He participated in the cult television series La Hora Marcada along with other renowned Mexican film-makers such as Emmanuel Lubezki and Alfonso Cuaron. He spent eight years as a special effects make-up designer and formed his own effects company, Necropia. He also co-founded the Guadalajara International Film Festival. Later on in his directing career, he formed his own production company known as The Tequila Gang.
Financed to the tune of US$28 million by the genre-friendly but notoriously hands-on Dimension Films, Del Toro’s first American movie manifests tell-tale signs of an overlong gestation period and a difficult birth. That so much of Del Toro’s original vision has survived intact through this torturous process is a testament to the depth of his imagination and determination. It was during this time, he heard that his father, automotive entrepreneur Federico Del Toro, was abducted in Guadalajara, Mexico. Although Don Federico was released, there was so much economic pressure from their captors, to the degree that they had to pay two times the amount for the rescue. This event prompted Del Toro, his parents and his siblings to move abroad and live as expatriates.
These events, plus the many mutations that Mimic (1997) underwent during the scripting process, shooting schedule, and final editing have resulted in some rather uneven pacing, occasional lapses of story-telling clarity, and a curiously hybrid feel to the movie as a whole. Juxtaposing images of poetic beauty with scenes of stark terror, Del Toro doesn’t always manage to dovetail the serious underlying allegory about the perils of genetic manipulation with the relentlessly kinetic scenes of subterranean horror.
When a polio-like epidemic threatens the lives of all the children in New York, entomologist Doctor Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) and her husband, disease control expert Peter (Jeremy Northam), create a genetically altered Judas Breed insect that will mate with, and destroy, the disease’s main carrier, the humble but much-loathed cockroach. But the cocky scientists have underestimated the insect’s capacity for mutation and survival. Cut to several years later, a race of large bugs that mimic homeless humans are found to be breeding in the tunnels beneath New York. Plunged into the bug’s subterranean habitat, Susan and Peter are stalked by their own bastard creation. Also wandering the tunnels are other potential foodstuffs – Peter’s assistant Josh (Josh Brolin), transit cop Leonard (Charles S. Dutton) and elderly shoe repairman Manny (Giancarlo Giannini), who is looking for his autistic grandson Chuy (Alexander Goodwin). To avoid the razor-sharp legs and bone-crushing mandibles of the voracious giant bugs, the human prey are forced in turn to mimic their insect predators, hiding and scuttling about in the dark in order to survive.
Surprisingly serious and grim, but with a little of Del Toro’s surreal humour thrown in for good measure, Mimic’s consistent atmosphere of dread is sustained from the scene-setting title sequence by Kyle Cooper – creator of almost a hundred opening credit sequences from Se7en (1995) and The Island Of Doctor Moreau (1996) to Across The Universe (2007) and Tropic Thunder (2008) – right through to the terrifying finale in which the humans are trapped inside a cramped subway carriage by their ferocious insect adversaries. Deliberately breaking the unwritten Hollywood rule which states that animals, old people and children always survive to the last reel, Del Toro also keeps us guessing right to the end about who may or may not become a casualty.
Despite its structural weaknesses, this demands to be seen on the big screen, if only to appreciate the terrible beauty of Rick Lazzarini, Tyruben Ellingson and Rob Bottin‘s creature designs, the lustrous light and shadow of Dan Lausten‘s cinematography, and the lush, unashamedly melodramatic strains of Marco Beltrami‘s score. Since Mimic in 1997, Guillermo del Toro has directed a wide variety of films, from action hero comic book adaptations like Hellboy (2004) and Blade II (2002), to historical fantasy-horror films, two of which are set in Spain in the context of the Spanish Civil War under the authoritarian rule of Francisco Franco. These two films, The Devil’s Backbone (2001) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), are among his most critically acclaimed works.
After The Hobbit (2012) and its sequel is completed, Del Toro is scheduled to produce and/or direct four films for Universal: Frankenstein, Doctor Jekyll And Mister Hyde, Slaughterhouse Five, and Drood, an adaptation of a Dan Simmons novel. Nevertheless, he still has his sights set on filming the H.P. Lovecraft story At The Mountains Of Madness, even though these projects have filled up his schedule until 2017. Busy boy. Anyway, please join me next week when I have the opportunity to inflict upon you more tortures of the damned from that dark, bottomless pit known as…Horror News! Toodles!
Mimic is now Available on Bluray from Lionsgate Home Entertainment with a special 3 Film Bluray set (1-3)