Wednesday, June 29, 2011

To Mimic a Copycat

I'm not touching Cars 2. Transformers Dark of the Moon is out, but I haven't had the chance to see it yet. I've viewed just about everything else in theaters worth watching (and a few that aren't). All that adds up to today heralding a Mr. Anderson Retro Review, this one for the 1997 sci-fi horror film Mimic. I didn't see this title when it was first released. Mimic's origins come from a proposed trio of short films, two of which were turned instead into full-blown motion pictures. Impostor, the other full-length title, was a box office dud that isn't remotely remembered today. Mimic, however, got enough of a push that its mention doesn't draw blank stares, even if its box office numbers might not have impressed by any means. It even spawned two direct-to-DVD sequels, unlikely though to have made their way to any home-owned shelves. Discovering Mimic on Netflix Streaming turned out to be a pleasant surprise, almost as much as learning that acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro was behind the creation of it. These days del Toro has become something of a film legend, with his unique style of directing and ability to capture beautiful dark images making a legacy out of his career, including such titles as Hellboy, The Devil's Backbone and the widely-praised Pan's Labyrinth. Even when he's involved in films that he's not directing, he carries an obvious influence that adopts his touch into something recognizable as his work. Back then, Mimic was only his second feature film, and his first heavily promoted one. This of course caused me even greater anticipation for the film, as even if I wasn't destined to like it, there would surely be much to admire and respect.

Happy Birthday! Awww... you're DEAD!
After introducing a genetically-bred strain of insect into the sewers under New York City to help combat cockroaches spreading Strickler's Disease, a plague that is targeting small children, Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) is hailed as a hero to the people, with only a small minority taking umbrage with her "playing God" by creating a new life form. Still, it produces results, and years later the disease has been eradicated. However, a new plague stalks the city's underbelly. Tyler's bugs, thought to have been infertile and died out, have evolved, mimicking their prey to eradicate them, with humans next on the food chain. Confronted with this, Tyler and her husband Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) venture into the sewers to discover just how far the creatures have come and to stop them from escaping the sewers of New York and eradicating the human race in the long run.

The first thing you might notice about Mimic is that it feels like something you've seen before. As a typical monster/slasher flick, you could easily draw comparisons to a number of similar films, most notably the Alien series with its insect-like horrific creatures. Mimic similarly spends a lot of time in dark, claustrophobic places, mostly in the sewer and subway tunnels under New York, a labyrinth that includes everything from Mole People habitats to abandoned rail tunnels. The creature effects are also strikingly similar, not surprising considering the easy comparisons drawn between Mimic's shape-changing bugs and Alien's environment-blending death-dealers. They even secrete the same sticky resin that - while hardly unique to either race - lets the audience know that they're nearby when a characters steps in it.

When you get out of this, I recommend investing a little money in some shampoo.
The similarities to other films extend even to Mimic's lead role. Dr. Susan Tyler is a smart, resourceful woman who battles her own demons and issues of motherhood. Ellen Ripley, anyone? Sarah Connor? Though not physically as strong as either of those characters eventually became, Susan still shares many of their themes, and more represents their early weaknesses and damsel in distress situations here. If Mimic had become a legitimate franchise, the character might have adopted their stronger traits and become more of a heroine, but alas that was not meant to be. Regardless, Sorvino is good enough to match talents with Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton as she offers a great performance, one that netted her a Saturn Award nomination for best actress that year. It's scary to think that she could easily have had Jennifer Aniston's career, as watching her in this film is like seeing Friends turned into a blood-soaked horror-fest, with monsters cast instead of Davis Schwimmer, with nobody noticing the difference.

Yes, Mira, the New York sewers will probably be dirty.
You can't have a heroine in distress without a manly hero who actually saves the day, and Jeremy Northam fills this role fairly easily. Despite looking like an MIT nerd and with a job to match, Northam does a decent job for a character with preciously little time developed. Josh Brolin and Giancarlo Giannini play a police officer and a father who's son has been taken by the monsters, respectively. Neither plays a large role in the story, with their side parts only leading to their eventual demises. Another throwback to the Alien series is the casting of Charles S. Dutton, who had starred in Alien3 five years earlier. Dutton plays a disgruntled T cop, one who for good reason doesn't want to be stuck down in the sewers with these things. F. Murray Abraham makes an appearance as well in a small role as a doctor condemning Tyler's methods for eradicating the Strickler's Disease. Most of these supporting roles come off as hollow caricatures, even if they are well-acted caricatures. It's a shame that Dr. Tyler is the only one with a developed persona, but unfortunately, that's the way it panned out.

I don't look THAT much like Rachel!
The effect del Toro brings to the table is difficult to ignore, and even at a relatively young age he possessed the talents to create perfect camera angles. His darker elements are also readily present, and you can see where the elements to many of his future projects began to take shape. While Mimic is not a perfect movie (or even one the director was happy with), I certainly enjoyed it for what it was. A somewhat derivative throwback horror film with a truly scary monster, Mimic is good enough to wish it had performed better, though it is far from one that I'd consider re-watching, unless del Toro ever releases a director's cut a la David Fincher's Alien3. If you haven't seen this film but you like the genre, I definitely give Mimic my seal of approval.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mimic 2 is mostly dreadful. And forgettable. Mostly, it just shits on the continuity of the first film.

Mimic 3, however, is an undiscovered gem directed by J.T. Petty (of The Burrowers fame). Confined mostly to one apartment, the film is an homage (rip off) of 'Rear Window'. It's fun, interesting, and kinda scary.