A Sci-Fi Honey Classic Review by Katie

Mimic (1997)

My recent Sci-Fi Honey Classic Review of Night of the Creeps got me in the mood for some more classic creepy-crawly fare, and I have a lot in this genre to pick through: from spiders to worms to beetles and even “man-squitoes,” this subgenre gives us a lot to squirm about.  Guillermo Del Toro’s big bad bug entry, 1997’s Mimic, is a smarter take on the ancient “mess with nature and it’ll mess with us” story.  Through his unique visual style and flair for storytelling, Del Toro manages to take many things that could work against him and spins them into horror gold.  Not only does he create his own bizarre mutant bug species for Mimic – he supersizes it, clothes it in a trench coat, and casts “Romy” in the lead role as a scientist.  A horror film that accomplishes all this without coming off as some absurd comedy is a feat unto itself, but Del Toro has a knack for elevating even the most absurd premise into a mystical and exciting experience.

Branching out on the deadly cockroach theme from his earlier cult classic Cronos (1993), the cockroaches of Mimic are not only your everyday New York City-dwelling pests, but the harbingers of a fatal disease for hundreds of area children who have died after being infected by a roach bite.  Our hero is Mira Sorvino, an entomologist who has bred a mantis-like creature christened the “Judas Breed”, designed to infiltrate the sewers for three months to kill the roaches, after which they have been programmed to self-terminate.  The Judas bugs were all female, so there’s no way they could somehow reproduce (*cough* Jurassic Park) and mutate in our sewers (*cough* C.H.U.D.) to reemerge as humanoid insects out for blood… right?  Tisk, tisk, Dr. Romy: sci-fi fans know better.

"I really don't see how this could go wrong!"

Hardcore Del Toro fans will be pleased to see that most of the signature narrative and visual elements ubiquitous in his work are present here: a story centered on the magic and terror of insects, the wonder of children, and the shadowy labyrinth of some sort of underworld – in this case, a dilapidated subway system.  The film’s heavy atmosphere comes not only from the subterranean setting of much of the climax, but the rain and grimy darkness of the city itself, punctuated only by a bolt of lightning or the sputtering beam of a malfunctioning flashlight.  Del Toro often utilizes these mood-setting techniques to put the audience squarely in the realm of classic horror, where the crack of thunder or an otherworldly scuttling sound through the dark is enough to produce chills.

Despite getting the mood right (and even getting the “science” portion of this science-fiction to feel authentic enough), the film has its flaws which are not relative to it being nearly twenty years old.  The effects, which are mostly practical and not too reliant on CG, still mostly hold up, and the bug design is especially creative.  The film only sags in the near-climax portion, where plot contrivances are needed for each of our central characters to end up in the same place at the same time, to either fall victim to the creatures (sometimes on purpose as a sacrifice, yawn), or emerge triumphant and covered in sewer muck.

NYC subway system: scaring the shit out of people since always
Revisiting this film after many years, two things stood out for me: one, the relative lack of gore, except where bug goo is concerned (there is an especially yucky scene where our human characters have to slather themselves in a dead Judas’s scent gland secretions, lovely), and two: that the film doesn’t shy away from death perpetrated upon just about anybody, including children.  Violence against children is low on my totem pole for what I’m willing to tolerate from a film’s content in general, but any jaded horror fan will tell you that just as sure the promiscuous teen will die, the little kid (if they are not the antichrist or possessed by a demon, that is), will probably make it through the film relatively unscathed.  Mimic opens by depicting a disease that is only fatal to children; likewise, some junior bug enthusiasts fall victim to the mutated Judas.  These depictions are not too gratuitous visually, but are a bold choice thematically, and I applaud Del Toro for being willing to get away with something so taboo.

Don't worry kids, the Judas bug isn't real...probably.
On that note, it has been well publicized that Del Toro was not happy with the outcome of the film in its theatrical release, as the almighty Weinsteins refused to give him the final cut.  For genuine fans of the man’s work, I recommend picking up the 2011 director’s cut Blu-ray, which includes six minutes of additional footage, commentary, and a documentary, “Reclaiming Mimic,” about Del Toro finally claiming true ownership over this bug-infested piece of sci-fi horror history.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating:  Four scurrying six-legged creepy-crawlies out of five.  What’s that on your neck…?!