Original release: August 22nd 1997
Running time: 111 minutes
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writers: Matthew Robbins, Guillermo del
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Charles S. Dutton, Josh Brolin
It’s hard not to be fascinated by mimicry as we see examples of it in nature. It can be predatory as well as defensive in its purpose, but either way, I find this ability a very mysterious phenomenon.
Evolutionary biology gives us adequate explanation of the ‘how’, but little is known about the ‘why’. The logic of evolution is to adapt to the environment in order to survive, but mimicry seems like a much more pro-active occurrence. Unlike camouflage, it takes the initiative and perhaps it resembles more to an idea than a response.
When Guillermo del Toro made Mimic in 1997, the film played with the concept interestingly enough to result in a fairly clever and entertaining horror, but when The Director’s Cut was released more than a decade later, we were finally treated to a much more thematically refined version that almost feels like a different film altogether.
In a bleak portrayal of New York City, cockroaches are spreading a cruel and deadly disease that’s only claiming the lives of children. Working for the Center for Disease Control, Dr Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) turns to entomologist Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) for help. They develop a genetically engineered insect called ‘Judas Breed’ that releases an enzyme harmful to the cockroaches and the result is swift success.
Three years later Peter and Susan are happily married, but then people begin to disappear in subways and tunnels under the city.
As the film deals much with survival of the species and the subject of reproduction, the additional scenes in The Director’s Cut revealing Susan’s pregnancy give Mimic a new layer of depth. Guillermo first shows the couple talking in a museum about having a baby and using fertility drugs. The scene foreshadows the end of humanity with two people trying to reproduce through unnatural means – with fossils of extinct species seen in the background.
Later, due to a pregnancy test showing the positive result a few minutes late, Susan leaves the flat and it’s Peter who discovers the pregnancy. In a very intriguing scene of gender role reversal, we see the man holding the pregnancy test in the bathroom and realising new life is on the way.
The scene from Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) with the alien’s tail creeping up between Lambert’s legs is widely interpreted as a rape metaphor and has its mirror image here in Mimic. This time it’s Peter who has the lethal spiked foreleg of the creature between his legs in what could be seen as a metaphor for male castration. I found scenes of gender shift, and perhaps also male anxiety, somewhat puzzling in the context of human survival and fecundity, and still wonder if there’s a latent conservative message in Mimic.
When an alarmingly large dead insect is recovered from the city’s sewer system, Susan begins to suspect that Judas Breed is on the loose, in spite of the suicide gene they were designed with. The following investigation takes her and a group of people under the city where they realise that Judas Breed has evolved and now has the ability to mimic human appearance and behaviour. Susan and the others then become the creatures in the cage; trying to get out and fighting for survival when they finally see there’s a nest of thousands of human sized hostile insects under New York, ready to claim their territory above.
Looking at the making of Mimic a little bit closer, there’s strong resemblance between Guillermo del Toro’s constant battling with the studio and David Fincher trying to maintain his own creative authority when making Alien 3 (1992).
Del Toro owns The Director’s Cut of his first film made in Hollywood and says that it’s as close to his vision as it’s ever going to get. When comparing the new version with the original, the differences are quite significant and there’s a much clearer narrative.
Several scenes shot by the second unit, mostly consisting of conventional horror movie scare moments – or as Del Toro refers to it, “second unit crap” – were removed and new scenes with thematic substance were added.
The final confrontation between Susan and the male insect is still very much a let-down though as the director was never allowed to realise his original idea. With all of its shortcomings, Mimic: The Director’s Cut has the fingerprints of genius all over it with thought provoking ideas, as well as being an entertaining horror film.
Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.
Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.