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Mimic (1997) Del Toro Film Review

Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic (1997) uses repulsive practical effects and stylish filmmaking to bring a chilling tale of killer insects to life.

Even though Mimic isn’t Guillermo del Toro’s best or most popular work, there’s something about this haunting thriller that stands out among his other films. It might not have the glamorous visuals of projects like Nightmare Alley or the dreamlike Gothicism of Crimson Peak, but Mimic has something that those more prestigious movies don’t – the sickening, gritty realism of a low-budget ‘90s horror. Even in this smaller, more contained narrative, Del Toro shows an impressive awareness of just how easy it can be to scare the audience when you know exactly where your story’s priorities lie. By blending plenty of creative camera skills with loads of dark practical effects, Del Toro crafts something that shines because of its overwhelming simplicity.

Mimic is a cinematic adaptation of Donald A. Wollheim’s short story of the same name, which tells the tale of a genetically-manipulated insect, originally designed to combat the rising cockroach population in New York City, which begins to mutate and develops the ability to physically mimic its predators. Things quickly escalate when the scientists behind the “Judas” bug attempt to exterminate the species, triggering the attention of an entire colony. The first half of the story plays out almost like a crime thriller, as scientists Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) and Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) begin to investigate the species after a series of suspicious deaths in the local area – and this is where the film really thrives. Del Toro is an expert at creating tension in these scenes, focusing on the figures at the heart of the story whilst also including plenty of dark and disturbing imagery to maintain that gritty tone that characterizes the whole thing.

But once that central mystery begins to unfold, Mimic quickly morphs into a different kind of film altogether. Whilst the first half adopts a dark thriller approach in the same vein as ‘90s classics like Se7en or The Silence of the Lambs, the second half is an all-out horror fest. It’s a creature feature in its rawest form – bloody violence, intense action, frightening jump scares, and a chilling score that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats from start to finish. Whilst the contrast between these two sides of the film can admittedly be a little jarring, and might even deter those who aren’t devoted horror fans, the way that it effortlessly subverts the audience’s attention is really something to admire.

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Mimic (1997) (Lionsgate)

Mimic is probably the simplest story in Del Toro’s filmography, but that shouldn’t automatically be considered a weakness. Whilst some of his later films can get bogged down by their dense commentary and rich storytelling, Mimic knows exactly what it is from the very first frame. It won’t leave you with heaps of ideas to think about like The Shape of Water does, and it isn’t quite as magical or rewatchable as Pan’s Labyrinth, but this film occupies a very specific corner of the director’s repertoire, and it definitely succeeds. It’s actually a shame that Del Toro hasn’t made a film quite like Mimic since the ‘90s, because if there’s anybody with the ability to revive this specific style of filmmaking, it’s him.

Ultimately, Mimic might not be Del Toro’s masterpiece, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most entertaining viewing experiences that he’s crafted so far. There are flaws, of course, but they’re hardly noticeable once you’ve fully immersed yourself and allowed yourself to get swept away by the film’s well-paced story. Those who only know Del Toro from his Oscar-winning projects will likely be surprised to learn that his career began in B-movie horrors such as this – but that only proves his diversity and versatility as a filmmaker.

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Mimic (1997) is now available to watch on digital and on demand.

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