It didn’t take long for people to recognize the promise in Guillermo del Toro following his exceptionally odd debut, Cronos, and it certainly didn’t take long for Harvey Weinstein to put that talent on a leash. Miramax’s perceived rivals, October Films, had picked up Cronos for North American release and one could argue that Weinstein agreed to fund del Toro’s follow-up, Mimic, written by the director and Matthew Robbins, as a form of retaliation—a theory inched closer to confirmation by Weinstein’s pointless trimming of the film by some six minutes. Still, the film was a commercial failure and didn’t receive a kind critical reception.
Even in its restored director’s cut, Mimic isn’t a film that invites much fascination, nor does it exemplify del Toro’s admirable ability to fill his frame with creatures of varying colors and textures, languages and thoughts, sincere emotions and supernatural abilities. In fact, Mimic has only two major creatures: an evolved insect with the ability to disguise itself and walk upright, and the slimy cocoons that hold its young. Still, it’s a movie that boldly involves itself with those things that del Toro is most interested in, namely the horrors, both imagined and very real, of childhood, subterranean action, disease, and the inevitable repercussions of good deeds done.
Stemming from his interest in childhood and children in peril, del Toro’s films often stretch out to explore pregnancy, motherhood and fatherhood, and the hard instincts brought on by such sudden shifts in biology. In this case, the director’s heroine, Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino), is responsible for (metaphorically) giving birth to the hybrid insect (the Judas Breed) that wipes out the entire population of cockroaches in New York City, which are carrying a disease that’s killing off an entire generation of children. Three years later, she’s married to the CDC agent who worked with her to release the Judas Breed, Peter (Jeremy Northam), and trying for a baby of her own when a series of slayings and random findings points to a hive of advanced Judas Breeds living below the Delancey St. subway stop.
Most of the action takes place is closed quarters and tunnels, strewn with filth and sticky bodily fluids, cobwebs and rotted wood, which works as counterweight to the blustery, hollow philosophical and biological diatribes that Tyler and her professor friend (F. Murray Abraham) engage in to stress the parallels, plot points and dichotomies implicit in the film already. The structure is indebted to early monster movies (Creature from the Black Lagoon, Them!, The Blob), but whereas del Toro has grown into a master of warping, eschewing, and dismissing contrivances, Mimic leans heavy on plot and pays little more than lip service to the larger, more complex themes that the film touches on, such as the similar, if not identical, instincts that Long John, the king of the Judas Breed, shares with both Susan and Peter and how we indulge and satiate those instincts.
The best bit of casing is that of Giancarlo Giannini as an immigrant shoeshine who looks after his impaired son (Alexander Goodwin) and tries to teach him the ins and outs of his simple trade. They, along with Charles S. Dutton’s subway cop and Josh Brolin’s CDC hotshot, are treated as little more than potential fodder for the body count, but Giannini’s story accomplishes setting up an interesting thematic touché to the protective onslaught of the Judas Breed with clear sight that Susan and Peter’s main thrust consistently deploys with complications that are neither witty nor insightful.
As for thrills, Mimic delivers, more or less, and there are some sequences that are notable for their use of setting and knowing repetition, such as when Long John breaks into Susan’s home to retrieve a baby Judas Breed. Insinuation keeps the film afloat for a while, but eventually the rote mechanics kick into gear and the film ends ceremoniously with the nuclear white family reunited. Followed by The Devil’s Backbone, a roaring return to form, Mimic can now be seen as the filmmaker’s rough-and-tumble first encounter with the beast of Hollywood, which he subsequently mastered with Blade 2 and his exceptionally creative and engaging Hellboy diptych. His fascinations and passions erupted most potently in Pan’s Labyrinth, a great film that has suffered a great deal of unconvincing backlash, but the notes and residue of those passions that can be found in Mimic attest to del Toro’s lasting power as a singular artist; even the film’s he’s produced—Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Splice, and The Orphanage specifically—subscribe to his strain of interests. If Mimic is, at the end of the day, merely passable, it has its place in the case for del Toro as one of the few preeminent monster-movie auteurs.
Mimic relies heavily on dark scenes in subterranean spaces and, as might be expected, Lionsgate’s 1080p transfer does its best to capture the barely illuminated darkness as best it can, but fails in certain respects. Obviously, crush is a bit of an issue, but the transfer itself is also quite grainy, leading to some instances where noise becomes an issue. Still, the obtrusive bits pass quickly and most of Mimic looks very nice on Blu-ray, boasting excellent detail and texture in the daylight bits and above-ground locales. The audio, a far more complex matter in this case, is actually handled very well, in comparison. Insinuation is the key to what works in Mimic and Guillermo del Toro leans heavily on noises (the click-click of the Judas Breed) to convey fright. Dialogue is out front and clear consistently, and the varied, immersive mix is really a delight that never rings false.
Guillermo del Toro, per usual, delivers a great commentary track where he candidly discusses his problems with the original cut of the film and the production process; he also introduces the film in a brief prologue. The film’s problematic post-production is further discussed in the "Reclaiming Mimic" featurette, while pre-production and production are briefly, but informatively, documented in the "A Leap of Evolution" and "Back into the Tunnels" featurettes. The deleted scenes are interesting, especially the alternative ending, but the storyboard animatics are disposable. A gag reel is also included.
An oddly conventional work for a terminally inventive director, Mimic receives a satisfactory transfer from Lionsgate and a bounty of strong extras.