Being Film #25 for Hooptober 2022
In the annals of studio meddling few stories break my nerd heart more than reading about how much grief and outright bullying Miramax and the Weinsteins laid down upon Guillermo del Toro and Mimic, his first foray into the Hollywood system. 14 years after the film’s release some semblance of a Director’s Cut was released that attempted to rectify much of the editing choices the Weinsteins took with the initial release. Watching the film again it’s a testament to del Toro’s vision how much of his predilections and obsessions are on display, even as it still feels like one of his least impactful works. That’s okay; there’s still more terror to be had in a single moment here than in the entirety of The Nest, so let this stand tall as the superior “Bug Movie” for this year’s Hooptober.
THE QUICK SUMMARY: A crippling disease strikes New York, killing thousands of the city’s children. Primarily carried by cockroaches, a young scientist and her CDC official boyfriend genetically alter a cockroach into the “Judas” breed, releasing it into the sewers to kill off the roach carriers with genetic coding to ensure its lifespan is limited to six months. Three years later the disease is history, but evolution is a tricky thing, and something is taking and killing people, centered around an abandoned church in the city? Who is Mr. Funny Shoes, and what does he have to do with the “weird bug” some kids sound in the subway system? Have you ever seen a sewer system look as Gothic as it does here? Do you need anything else to tell you this is a Guillermo del Toro picture? Count the circles framed perfectly, marvel at the practical effects even as you cringe at the late 90s CGI, but make no mistake…the Judas breed has evolved, and if Mira Sorvino can’t stop it, shit’s gonna hit the fan (it’s already all over the ceilings…just ask Josh Brolin).
If you weren’t sure you were watching a cel Toro film, the opening moments when we first see Mira Sorvino’s Sr. Susan Tyler touring a local hospital where dozens of children are being treated for the disease should immediately tip you off. NO HOSPITAL LOOKS LIKE THIS, and yet it’s perfect for setting the tone and mood of Mimic in a way only del Toro can do. His obsession with shapes, with geometry and framing is evident everywhere – it’s not hard to understand why number crunchers like the Weinsteins were infuriated with what they were seeing in the dailies…this looks nothing like the 90s slick horror they were probably expecting.
Sadly, that doesn’t stop the film from falling into a few too many holes to be entirely successful, even with the work done on preserving del Toro’s vision. Nothing is going to change the casting problems of both Jeremy Northam and Josh Brolin, who are distracting at best and in Brolin’s case hilarious in his portrayal of a rumpled detective, except…he’s not a detective. He works for the CDC and I can only chalk this up to Brolin just deciding regardless of the script that he was going to play a rumpled, beat down detective who…takes samples of shit. It’s equally brazen and insane. Northam, on the other hand is largely forgettable.
The script does take some simplistic studio turns with Charles S. Dutton playing a subway cop who’s all attitude and audience entry to the craziness happening, and the ending feels tacked on to ensure some folks get a palatable closing, but nothing can really take away from the moments that are pure del Toro, like the scene in Tyler’s office when one of the grown Judas breed comes in to steal the weird bug sample, or when the father of a young autistic child searches for his son in the abandoned church. There’s a brief scene where Sorvino visits a sewer plant where she meets a young Norman Reed’s who found something disturbing in the water and it’s 100% del Toro, with great practical effects and a set design that would be found in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
Looking through his filmography I would rank Mimic as del Toro’s worst picture, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. Skirt past the problems and revel in the ideas, the beautifully dark scenes and imagine what could have been. It’s still a fun, creepy ride.