Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunday Movie Theater: Mimic (1997)

A dark, chilly combination of various topics

Another Sunday, another visit to the movie theater. ^^

Leaving humor and more humor behind after "Blackadder Back & Forth" (1999) and "Galaxy Quest" (1999), ^^ this installment of Sunday Movie Theater will be about a sci-fi horror movie instead.

Movie poster is from IMDB.

Trailer of the movie.
Video clip is from Youtube. Follow this link to the website if you can't see anything.

"Mimic", a 1997 movie directed by Guillermo del Toro. Technical movie details can be seen on IMDB.

Much like "Galaxy Quest", I first watched "Mimic" a long time ago. The creature design and horror in the story were the elements I remembered and liked the most about this movie initially. After re-watching it a couple of times in the last few years, I realize the story offered more than just a bunch of giant killer bugs and some scientists' attempt to exterminate them. "Mimic" was actually a very good movie that shows a mixture of interesting topics in a dark, but sometimes subtle way.

Set on Manhattan Island, an genetically altered experimental breed of mutant insect was created and released underground by Dr. Susan Tyler (played by Mira Sorvino) to combat the common cockroaches to stop a raging epidemic that was killing children on the island. The new insect, called the Judas breed was designed to die together with the roaches after it completed its mission, but after three years, unknown to the ignorant mass public, the mutant insects had evolved into a large predatory breed and began attacking people. Susan, alongside her husband, Dr. Peter Mann (played by Jeremy Northam) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must worked together with an unwilling policeman and a single father looking for his missing son to put an end to the mutant breed while trying to survive the insects' onslaught deep in their underground lair.

The premise of the story set up a pretty interesting man-versus-insect horror movie, and I think the production team did a fantastic job to portray that theme as realistically as possible. ^^ Because the threat to mankind in the movie was a breed of human-sized praying mantis-like insert that stands on two feet and didn't shy away from appearing out in the open, the tendency for the movie to become cheesy and fall into a certain stereotyped set of limitations was very easy. ^^; I'm certainly glad that "Mimic" didn't turn out that way. ^^ The design of an insect that had evolved into something that could mimic the appearance of a human being (hence the title of the movie) was pretty creative, and very well executed too. When the creature was shown doing its killings, special effects were used to expose the full view of the insect form, and it really looked like a giant bug. ^^ When the creature was shown out in the open among unsuspecting members of the public, it was supposedly a human actor in a long black coat, but clever camera tricks and lighting helped to "rationalize" the creature's "Long John" appearance. It was a "risky" take on the old trick of having "actor in rubber suit" portraying an onscreen mutant insect, but the creature design made it work well in this movie. ^^

On the elements of horror and gore (my favorite XD), those who are familiar with Guillermo del Toro's other work like "Blade II" (2002), "Hellboy" (2004) and "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" (2008) and even "Pan's Labyrinth" (2006) would know that he's not a movie maker who has too much reservations about portraying blood and gory details when the scenes call for them. ^^ There weren't many killing scenes in "Mimic", which may be disappointing to some (^^), but you do get kids getting sliced up by a soldier bug, closeups of animal and insect carcasses, Josh Brolin getting chopped up from below (XD), dirty underground scenes, disgusting insect secretion, all very nasty stuff. ^^ The dim lighting in many scenes helped to reinforce the scary images as well, especially when the characters were in the abandoned underground railway station. As a result of that, some scenes were really just shadow play - you don't get to see a whole lot of blood or "step-by-step" slicing and dicing by the mutant insects, but the message is clear. Suffice to say, the elements of horror and gore were well executed in this movie. ^^

From there, you can definitely enjoy "Mimic" merely as a horror creature movie for its simple story and effective visual elements - that was how I enjoyed it on my first watch as mentioned at the beginning. ^^ There were also various underlying messages that were been conveyed through the plot points and some of the scenes, which made the movie more interesting, meaningful and realistic. Released in 1997, about one year after the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep, exploring the consequences of genetic engineering was a big theme of this movie. The creature design might indicated the the sentiment of rejection or even fear towards the technology, but I believe it was more of a "what if" scenario. What if we can create a whole new species of organism based on our selective options? How will it be like in the real world? Have all considerations been taken care of properly in the process of creating such organism? and how will we respond when things go out of control? All these and many more are real questions raised against the idea of genetic engineering since its introduction back in the 70s. A fictitious, fantastic but obviously detrimental scenario of the technology's application was been presented in the movie. What was originally created to save mankind turned into a new deadly threat later on. It was a great portrayal of irony in our attempt to manipulate nature for our own benefit.

From the theme of genetic engineering gone rogue (^^;), the idea of tiny, overlooked action turning into devastating problems with serious consequences was a big part of the movie as well. Susan's failure to realize the effect of nature on the Judas breed at the beginning, resulting in its continuous evolution to become monstrous killer bug three years later; Manny (played by Giancarlo Giannini) overlooked his son's talk about "Mr. Funny Shoe", resulting in his disappearance; Leonard the policeman's seemingly inconsequential killing of a small bug caused him to be trapped in the underground railway station with Peter. All the scenarios above began with very simple action from the characters, but the chain effects resulting from them formed all the huddles and obstacles presented in the story. For that, having the characters who "triggered" the different problems be the ones who solved them was a great way to provide resolutions to the issues. Susan ultimately destroyed the species, Manny did find his son; and Leonard uncharacteristically scarified himself to buy some time for the other characters who were also trapped with him to escape. While some endings weren't positive for certain characters, I think it was very satisfying in seeing how they try to resolve the problems they had a part in creating.

Thirdly, ignorance of common folks to problems and potential threats around them, as well as the distance between people was a major theme shown in the movie as well. It's outrageous when you think how a human-like insect could walk among common folks out in the open, but in a neighborhood where people were just too used to ignoring one another, the outcome was to be expected. ^^; Upon discovering their foul's true identify, Susan's reply, "I think we have." to Leonard when he questioned the sightings of the insects really summed up the ignorance among members of the public on the deadly threat. There was a scene where Susan was trying to reach out and call for help through a steam vent above where she was trapped, and there were pedestrians shown walking around outside the vent, not noticing anything at all, and then the shot slowly distanced away from her. It was a very simple and effective scene in showing the helplessness of the main character in facing the killer insect. Not only was she physically alone, there was no one else who knew about her problem or seemed to care about helping her out as well.

Interestingly, similar camera shot arrangement were used in another movie made by Guillermo del Toro, "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" to convey pretty much the same idea. That particular scene was at the beginning of the movie and showed a pretty lengthy practice session of Prince Nuada with his magical spear in an underground chamber, and as he was shown completing his exercise, an underground train speed past his training ground in the background, and then he looked up at a steam vent, which was then revealed to be on the road right outside the building he was about to attack. The existence of a mystical force bent on destruction was shown to blend in with the rest of the common world, and was right around every corner in a very busy city, yet nobody seemed to notice it. You can say that magic was used by the prince to hide his existence, but the idea of ignorance among people could be associated to it as well.

That same story idea can also be seen in the existence of groups of homeless folks, even children at the beginning of the story. No one seemed to care about them despite their appearance every now and then at the railway station. From some of the casual conversations the characters had before venturing into the underground station, it was clearly indicated that there were rumors among the homeless about the black cloaked figures and their fear of them. The movie would go a completely different direction if the rumors were been properly investigated by the authority, but again, with a very high level of ignorance and uncaring attitude among people, no one seemed to know the problem, even until when it was solved in the end I think. ^^;

From the point above, caring for children was an intricate part of the story as well. The epidemic killing children at the beginning of the story, the homeless children killed by the insect amd Manny's son (especially) highlighted the care needed for children in areas such as healthcare, safety, guardianship and education. The emphasis of caring needed for children is very specific I think, instead of creating mere shock value because of their age, especially regarding the killing of the two homeless kids. Story-wise, having two older bumps or some random unfortunate victims to be killed off in that particular scene would be just as "effective" in showing off the soldier class insect's brutality and strength. Instead, kids were involved. Their innocence and helplessness were the more important aspects the writers wished to convey as opposed to just the blood and gore in that scene I believe.

In terms of the cast members' performance, I think Charles S. Dutton did a fantastic job in portraying his role as Leonard the annoying policeman who was dragged into the entire misadventure. The character was shown to be timid, selfish, unfriendly, unhelpful and intimidating until troubles hit. ^^; Josh Brolin as Josh, Peter's assistant was almost like Cliffjumper in "Transformers: Prime". XD He only appeared in a couple of scenes with Peter at the beginning stage of the movie before he was killed off. He didn't return as a zombie like Cliffjumper did though. XD

Overall, "Mimic" is a very enjoyable horror and creature movie, if you're a fan of those two genres. The story is simple, but it's presented very well though good acting, effective lighting and camera tricks to reflect the dangerous situations the characters are facing. At the same time, there are various interesting real life elements discussed in the movie as well. All those special points didn't seem preachy or self-righteous, and didn't obstruct the flow of the entire story as well. They certainly add a lot of re-watch values to this movie.

For your information, there were two sequels made for "Mimic". Both were made for video release only, and Guillermo del Toro had zero contribution in both of them. I only watched the first sequel, which came out in 2001. Remy (played by Alix Koromzay) who was Susan's friend in this first movie was the only cast member to reprise her role in that sequel. The story focused on her fight for survival against the Judas breed in a school building, as well as her numerous failed relationships, which was a trivial point about the character shown in the first movie. The super small scale of the story and over-emphasis on the main character are two main complains I have about "Mimic 2". I don't think it's a good follow-up story to the first "Mimic", but the story isn't too horrible either. ^^ The second sequel, entitled "Mimic 3: Sentinel" was released in 2003. I have yet to watch that movie so I have no comment about it at the moment. ^^;

A very short trailer of "Mimic 3: Sentinel".
Video clip is from Youtube. Follow this link to the website if you can't see anything.

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