Today, Guillermo del Toro is a celebrated, Oscar-winning director. His filmography includes Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water, as well as Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Blade II, Hellboy, and Crimson Peak. A visually-creative filmmaker, del Toro has elevated the ‘monster movie’ to an art form. But del Toro’s first English-feature, Mimic, didn’t fare quite as well. Despite an impressive cast and innovative creature effects, Mimic flopped at the box office. Likewise, critics were divided on del Toro’s gooey ‘bug’ picture. So is Mimic best left in the 1990’s with dial-up modems? Or does del Toro’s bug creature feature deserve another look?
A deadly new virus carried by cockroaches, the ‘Strickler’s Disease’, is infecting hundreds of Manhattan children. Desperate for a cure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention turn to entomologist, Dr Susan Tyler. Her answer – a genetically engineered super insect called ‘The Judas’ Breed’. Tyler’s creation proves to be effective, wiping out the the threat. But ‘The Judas Breed’ may ultimately be too effective. Despite Tyler engineering a short lifespan for her creation, the insects inexplicably survive and rapidly evolve. Now they are targeting their next threat – humanity.
del Toro Paints a Dark Underground Labyrinth of Impressive Creature Effects
Early in Mimic, del Toro shows how to economically set up an intriguing premise without leaning on excessively dialogue. From that point onward, Mimic unfolds like a gooey mix of neo-noir and science fiction horror. Much of the movie’s first act benefits from the various moving pieces of the story slowly coming together. Arguably, Mimic is more of a movie of ideas and images as opposed to visceral scares. On occasion, del Toro creates heightened tension. Josh Brolin’s final scene offers some white-knuckle suspense. Nevertheless, Mimic melds more of del Toro’s dark fantasy filmmaking with science fiction with little emphasis on jump scares.
Arguably, Mimic is more of a movie of ideas and images as opposed to visceral scares.
Where Mimic truly excels is its visionary creature concept and design. Clearly a student of the game, del Toro methodically reveals his monster in small doses. There’s lots of dark, murky shots of shadowy figures set against Toronto’s (posing as Manhattan) rainy backdrop. Smaller, creepy ‘Judas bugs’ act as an appetizer to what’s coming. And del Toro uses abandoned churches and abandoned subway tunnels as characters themselves. When the first evolved ‘Judas bug’ reveals itself in a fully lit scene, it’s a well-earned culmination of everything that’s previously been built up. Yes, some of the full shots of the ‘Judas bug’ in flight haven’t aged well. But the ‘unfolding’ scene defines what one expects from a monster movie.
Mimic Suffers from Pacing Problems and Some Conventional Story-Telling
Though del Toro’s distinct visual style is all over Mimic, it’s still a B-monster movie. Yes, it’s an impressively made B-monster movie, but a B-monster movie just the same. And while that’s not a bad thing, del Toro looks like he was missing some of the creative freedom that independent movie-making affords. Look no further than del Toro’s directorial debut, Cronos, for proof. It’s a wildly creative take on vampires that doesn’t follow any familiar narrative patterns. In contrast, Mimic’s story takes many of the same beats you’d find in other 90’s monster movies, including The Relic or Virus. Most of the characters fit a standard mould and the ending feels too tidy.
…del Toro looks like he was missing some of the creative freedom that independent movie-making affords.
At just under two hours, Mimic also suffers from pacing problems. Following a hook-worthy prologue and engrossing first act, Mimic drags noticeably in the middle. With a more generic story and stock characters, Mimic doesn’t need the bloat that weighs things down. There’s no real interesting or surprising characters arcs to justify the length either. del Toro’s unique fantasy world-building is also absent. As a result, Mimic lacks some urgency that may have elevated it.
Mimic An Overlooked 90’s Horror Movie
Ultimately, Mimic falls short of del Toro’s best work. Yet even when his creativity is limited by studio constraints, del Toro still delivers a far better monster movie than anything else that was getting made at the time. First-rate creature effects set against a dark, murky background makes for engrossing, if not entirely scary, viewing. And while the movie feels a little long in the middle, Mira Sorvino, along with an impressive supporting cast, are more than capable to make the material feel less pulpy. Though it’s a minor genre entry, Mimic was one of the more overlooked horror movies of the 1990’s.