Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mimic (1997)

Something's lurking in the subway...big rats...think again!

"The Relic" came out as a hybrid science-fiction-thriller-horror early on in '97. Later in the year, "Mimic" wasn't an identical movie by any means in story or character but it still follows a similar genre setup and pacing template that audiences would consciously recognize. This was a story that could have been made in the '50s with science gone wrong and smaller organisms turning into monstrous size--outsourcing us at the top of the food chain, or destroying everything humans have built as payback for killing off nature to make room for concrete jungles. Those films, to an extent (some more than others), tried to make science (or fact) relative to real life, though were often times guess work and were more so playing on fears of what you wouldn't expect to catch a viewer off guard. They posed "what if?" questions to cinema goers in the form of sudden events: What if a cousin of that spider or ant I love to squish under my shoe comes back to get me? Also the "how did they come to be?" was somewhat pushed to the wayside, and the "how do we patch up the crisis?" was usually the main question, especially during a state of confusion and panic. "Mimic" has the moderately enormous creatures of the yesteryear, and it plays on fear, if a little more contained, though it gets somewhat complex with its biggest question posed: Should science play God by creating life of one species in order to save an existing one? As the characters soon find out that dabbling in one area can create another unforeseen catastrophe.

A disease called Strickler is debilitating and killing children when it suddenly comes to New York without a cure. A Dr. Susan Tyler (Sorvino) created a hybrid bug called the "Judas Breed" to attack the resilient cockroach--which was the main carrier of the disease--before it would become a widespread epidemic elsewhere. Three years later a man is being chased by something humanlike in look though with superhuman strength on a roof top. An autistic boy who can imitate just about anything witnesses the event from outside of his rain beaten window. Later at the cops-left-and-right, taped off scene, Tyler's husband Dr. Peter Mann (Northam), who works for the CDC, is instead called in for signs of yellow fever from immigrants in a nearby basement. Meanwhile, to her surprise, Dr. Tyler gets ahold of a Judas insect--which was only supposed to have a short life expectancy and be unable to breed--from young street kids who are selling it to her for a collection. The mysterious person-like thing in a trench coat visits her lab and takes the bug. She needs another specimen to confirm her findings and goes with her husband down in the subway terminals where the boys last seen the bug they sold her.

The beginning portion plays on mysteriousness and moody elements by panning shots, showing rainy and abandoned alleyways, and then giving snippets of information in a gradual unveiling till it's ready to jump in with both feet into a culminating finale. The beginning half is essentially there to build up to a showdown. So the film earns some bonus points for spending a little more time showcasing the characters beforehand until their various story threads eventually interlink. There are those that are directly involved to the bugs, while others find themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time. The directly involved use more brute force than their background knowledge to combat the enemy and it makes this look like it could have been any warm blooded human with a conscience to save humanity. I'm guessing out of convenience the scriptwriters didn't want to include another hero so they made the same characters jump over and take on both personas. Some of the scenarios make sense in the direct moment but when looking back or with an overview some motivations don't always line up or just seem a little too handy to further the story. It makes this start out with the tumblers working and ends up in the same boat as others that go directly for the throat. The first time I saw this, I remember thinking "Mimic" was a slightly better movie and was somewhat impressed, till that esteem lessened when I tried to get more out of it on repeat comebacks. There are still plenty of filmmaking mechanics to keep one busy and the production looks much better than most other films of the type.

They also play on something among us that isn't what it seems in a big city where everyone is so busy they don't even have time to pause, never mind check if you've got two legs under a trench coat. I couldn't help but be reminded of Raphael from "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" without the jokes, of course, but something that big and awkward going mostly unnoticed to busy New Yorkers in the city who move forward like they've already seen it all or as if time is money. The creature effects were a blend of CGI and prosthetics. Their faces are somewhat eerie looking, in that you wouldn't want the normal bug behind your fridge to look similar to your ugly neighbor. This has some violence, though it's not used excessively where blood is spraying this way and that, but more at exposed bug guts and insides than human--I'm sure there's no complaints there as it's either us or them, right?

Unlike some other films where the characters are similar or cut outs, the casting is definitely varied here. They're memorable with their diversity, though what's disappointing is it wasn't always taken further with remarkable performances. That can also be blamed on what range they're given. The weakest link is Jeremy Northam. He feels a little stiff and uncharismatic when attempting to inject emotion. It's like he nailed the everyday guy a little too well with a basic tone of voice and simple look to the point of being easily lost in a crowd. Mira Sorvino does all she can with her role with some intelligence and strength, but they don't always make her glow beyond what's she's given to do, like, say, Ripley in "Alien," which this gives some reference to. The boy and his Geppetto looking father add a contrast here but at times feel like extra bodies that pad the running time. The subway cop, Leonard (Dutton), and CDC agent, Josh (Brolin), represent the loud and colorful personalities. This is part of where some light jokes and fun come out in the meantime. However, the cop quickly gets annoying with nearly every single line he spews being a complaint, until two seconds from the finish line, he decides to be a team player. There isn't much on growth here--bugs excluded--except there is some rewarding resolve with attention to anticipation, which makes it more effective, as over-the-top and cinematic that may have been.

The major strengths of this movie are its aesthetics rather than its story or characters. You could tell Guillermo del Toro had an eye for detail in this early film of his, which I didn't realize till some time later that it was him. There's an ordered structure with a concentration on smooth transitions and getting the frame lined up just right or in a unique fashion--sometimes to a fault, as some scenes are so simple in idea that it feels like it's dressed up to be more than it is. "Mimic" still has a certain atmosphere and enough entertainment and involvement that made a turn around from being just an otherwise below average creature feature.

Rating: 6.5/10

Director: Guillermo del Toro (Cronos)
Stars: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Charles S. Dutton, Alix Koromzay, F. Murray Abraham
Link: IMDB

Facts from the Black and Red:

- Cockroach derives from the Spanish word cucaracha.
- Cockroach skeletons are external.
- Roaches are omnivorous.
- Cockroaches mate facing away from each other.
- The mouths of cockroaches work sideways and they don't have a tongue.

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