A Horror Masterpiece: Guillermo Del Toro’s “Mimic”

The abandoned subway station of Mimic (1997), a horror masterwork about a group of genetically enhanced insects that have learned to mimic humans, is one of the most intricate, textured, detailed pieces of production design ever showcased in 90’s films. CGI has rarely been as effective as old-fashioned set decoration, and director Guillermo del Toro (who’d later switch to CGI for the effects in his brilliant Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy) worked in Mimic with master designer Carol Spier to construct the setting of his debut film. The design, along with the brilliant make-up work, contributed to the creation of the cinema’s most diabolical, nastiest pests.

Ironically, Mimic hasn’t achieved the lofty cultural status of such horror classics as The Shining and Psycho because the intensity of the insects often overwhelms the human characters. Any dramatic work just isn’t as compelling without conflicted protagonists, despite the caliber of the villain(s); although we root for the humans in Mimic, we do not much care for them. In a strange way, though, the disconnect between the audience and the humans is part of the film’s fun! Because we’re never too invested in the outcome of the people, we’re free to enjoy the extraordinarily well coordinated attacks on them by the vicious creatures, steadily burrowing their way into subway cars and onto grimy station platforms.

The clever plot, adapted by Del Toro and Matthew Robbins from a short story by Donald A. Wollheim, involves two scientists (Mira Sorvino and Jeremy Northam) who enhance a species of bug in order to eradicate a deadly virus. Years later, the bugs have replicated and now intend to conquer the world by mimicking – and subsequently ingesting – humanity. Tracking down the bugs, Sorvino and Northam join a beat cop (the always terrific Charles S. Dutton) and a shoe shiner (the great Giancarlo Giannini) in a search & destroy mission through an abandoned subway complex.

From reading the script to Mimic, which doesn’t contain any overtly clever or interesting dialogue, one might have assumed that Sorvino, off her success at the Academy Awards for her supporting role in Woody Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite (1995), was trying to cash a big paycheck with a bug-filled summer horror picture. That actress has always possessed a flair for great material, though, with both tragedy and comedy. Her credits include The Grey Zone, Summer of Sam, and Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. When the screenplay for Mimic came her way, her good sense did not abandon her. Perhaps she met with Mr. del Toro and was impressed by his cinematic knowledge, or maybe she deduced that the script offered great potential for rivaling Ridley Scott’s Alien as the next generation’s premier creepy-crawly horror movie (a feat it very nearly achieved).

Whatever her reasoning, she definitely chose wisely. For any horror movie buff, Mimic is a must-see.