Like its closest ancestor, the ALIEN series, the new film MIMIC by
writer and director Guillermo Del Toro is as stunning visually as it is
frightening. The film even has a heroine, Dr. Susan Tyler who, like
Ripley, comes face-to-face with the lead monster in the end, but this
time the key to the survival of the monster species is a male.
In her first major non-comedic role, Academy Award winning actress
Mira Sorvino, last seen in the delightful comedy ROMY AND MICHELE'S
HIGH SCHOOL REUNION, plays Dr. Susan Tyler, "the bug lady." Sorvino,
who seemed incapable of playing anyone with an IQ above 80, proves that
her talent is much broader than expected. Her Susan, while not near as
tough as Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, is quite strong even though she is
vulnerable and scared. Susan is also embarrassed because it is her
scientific miscalculation that unleashed a plague of giant cockroach
mutants on the world. (This is one of those good shows -- SLING BLADE
was another -- which will immediately be written off by many people as
soon as the plot is described. Afterall, not many moviegoers go to the
entertainment section looking for a good cockroach film.)
Cinematographer Dan Laustsen is a master at the art of the shadow.
The shadowy mood combined with the script's proper sense of timing --
the best monster movies delay our first complete view of the monster as
long as possible -- yields a film that builds its terror properly.
Just as some of the sexiest films are those in which the people stay
fully dressed but seem always on the verge of taking off their clothes,
so it is with monster movies, the tease is the key. In the entire
first hour of MIMIC, the monster, in the form of a shadowy figure of a
man in a cloak, is seen only in glimpses. Marco Beltrami's eerie and
foreboding music adds to the ever-present feeling that death is right
around the corner.
"Strickland's Disease came to our town like a thief in the night,
threatening a generation of our children," Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy
Northam) tells a large assembly of reporters. Peter, a C.D.C. (Center
for Disease Control) researcher and Susan's live-in lover, gives this
speech praising Susan. Two years earlier a disease, transmitted by
cockroaches was killing kids even more than polio did in the 1950s.
Her DNA-based solution was to create a vicious "Judas Breed" of
cockroach that would kill out the disease carrying cockroaches, but
being infertile, the Judas Breed would themselves die within six
months. Since the kids stopped perishing, the program was thus
declared a huge and complete success.
Almost all of the story happens three years later, and -- you
guessed it -- the Judas Breed did not die out, but instead mutated into
something dastardly and human-sized. Of course, at first we don't know
that for sure. But, when the C.D.C. researchers find excrement stuck
to the ceiling where people died and when they break the mess open to
find large buttons in it, this is a definite hint that all is not right
in The Big Apple.
As in all horror films, people do stupid things. Even when
fearsome creatures may be lurking, they work in darkened rooms lit by
only a single bulb. In fact the light of flickering bad florescent
lights and low-wattage incandescent bulbs adds dramatically to the
horrific ambiance. Figures in the background are seen, but escape just
before being noticed as the audience whispers a collective "look out!"
under their breath.
F. Murray Abraham appears in an inconsequential role as an expert
named Dr. Gates. He reflects, rather philosophically, on an insect's
inner motivation. "Can I eat it or will it eat me?" it turns out is
what those little critters are always thinking. And do our big bugs
ever eat: children, pets, big beefy men, you name it. The fright,
however, does not come from visual gore since most meals are savored
off-screen. The fear comes in knowing what happens.
Charles Dutton appears as the street-wise -- actually subway-wise
since most of the film happens in and below the New York City subway --
cop named Leonard. He is great as the tough and disbelieving officer
who wants to play everything by the book. There is even a boy with a
heightened sense of hearing who calls the big bug, "Mr. Funny Shoes"
for the sounds he makes.
While the picture is certainly frightening, it is even more
fascinating. MIMIC has just enough scientific underpinnings to make
the story interesting and not seem too ridiculous. The ending,
although predictable in its outcome, has several surprises that use
almost plausible scientific theories. MIMIC is an ALIENS set in our
time and with a terrific look that begs to be seen even though the
potential for fright is ever-present. One thing is certain. After
seeing it, you will look at street grates in a totally different way.
MIMIC runs 1:44. It is rated R for terror and a little profanity.
The show would be fine for teenagers who can handle horror flicks. I
recommend the picture to you and give it ***.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes