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We celebrate the overdue UK appearance of Guillermo Del Toro's film Mimic
For a fascinating glimpse of production drawings from Mimic, see Shivers #55
IN 1992, director Guillermo Del Toro delivered Cronos, a bewitching Mexican film about a mysterious clockwork device that attacks an elderly antique shop owner, and turns him into a vampire. Although roughly hewn, it was critically lauded, and everyone agreed that its embarrassingly young director showed great promise. Del Toro's next project would be a film made within the Hollywood studio system, which perhaps threatened to strip away some of his idiosyncratic style.
The film was Mimic, and it opened in the US last September. Here in the UK the film has been awaiting a release date since its public première at last year's London Film Festival. It opened in more than a dozen countries before reaching us, including most of Europe and Australia, so it is not surprising that much of its initial energy, and our enthusiasm for it, has been dissipated.
If you discount the opening titles, which are reminiscent of, and by the same company as those for Se7en, Mimic begins halfway through Outbreak: a virus is killing New York's children, and its source has been traced to the city's cockroach population. Doctor Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) an eminent entomologist, has devised a biological counteragent: a genetically-engineered insect species, nicknamed the Judas breed, which, with some ludicrous - but terribly cinematic - formality, is let loose in the sewers. Within days the city's entire 'roach population is wiped out, and Doctor Tyler enjoys her fifteen minutes of fame with her husband, Doctor Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam).
Three years later the Judas breed (which, like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, were designed to die out quickly and quietly) returns with a vengeance. They have mutated, achieving in hundreds of generations what usually takes the evolutionary process thousands of years to accomplish. They have become many times larger, and are now capable of great aggression and animal cunning. Susan and Peter are teamed up with a bad-tempered transit cop, Leonard (Charles Dutton) - together they investigate a series of suspicious deaths which lead them to the subway system, and into the creatures' domain.
Stamp of Authority
Mimic is, as predicted, a more polished and 'mainstream' film than Cronos. It still has Del Toro's authoritative stamp on it, but is weakened by its distinctly 'Hollywood' cast, and a cheery outcome that is unlikely to have been what the director originally intended. Neither is it what a hardcore Horror audience would want, despite occasional moments of nail-biting terror that rival anything in Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer.
If Mimic's plot is rather dopey and the performances rather crude, then it must be Del Toro's atmospheric direction and the generally likeable characters which stitch it all together. Sorvino is beguiling, but nevertheless miscast. She makes a gutsy heroine (a role she takes to the next level with The Replacement Killers) and was terrific as the tart-with-a-heart in Mighty Aphrodite, but as a leading scientist, she lacks credibility. The characters Del Toro surrounds her with are less interesting. Her mentor, Doctor Gates, is played with suitable gravitas by F Murray Abraham, who seems uncomfortable, as if the material was beneath him. Tyler's husband is two-dimensional, and detracts attention from Sorvino with his rather routine and stereotypical acts of heroism.
Several supporting characters are better handled than the leads. Manny (Italian screen veteran Giancarlo Giannini) is a endearingly humble cobbler, from the same mould as the shopkeeper in Cronos. His autistic eight-year-old grandson, Chuy, although irritating, is played with some considerable skill by Alexander Goodwin. Charles Dutton adds much-needed zest to the team, nicely complementing the yuppy Doctors and the old man.
See Mimic in a well-equipped cinema, if Del Toro's work is to be fully appreciated. The film has an astonishing Dolby Digital sound mix which sends phantom beasties scurrying to every corner of the auditorium, and presents the powerful orchestral score (by Scream's Marco Beltrami) to impressive effect. The film excels in other technical departments, too. Del Toro's gift for composition is well served by Dan Lautsen's vibrant cinematography. The creature effects, a mixture of mechanical and computer-generated techniques, are generally very good, certainly better than similar work in The Relic and Alien Resurrection.