Mimic - * * *

Why is it that it seems every science fiction horror film in the last eighteen years tries to duplicate Alien? Mimic is the latest example of the trend. And, although overall it is a good, creepy thriller, it could have been much more without its Alien crutch.

Mira Sorvino stars as Dr. Susan Tyler, a geneticist specializing in insects. When a deadly plague strikes the children of New York City, carried by cockroaches, humanity seems doomed. To save the children, Dr. Tyler genetically engineers a new type of cockroach (the Judas breed), which will hunt down the existing cockroaches in New York, eliminate them, then self-destruct. Her plan works, and the plague is stopped.

Three years later, however, Dr. Tyler discovers signs that the Judas breed might not have self-destructed as they were supposed to. Furthermore, the genetically engineered bugs seem to be mutating at an enormous rate. She and her fellow scientist/lover, Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northam) venture into New York’s subway system in search of the bugs, which have changed much more (and are much more deadly) than either expects. Helping them in the search are a transit cop, Leonard (Charles S. Dutton), and a research assistant (Josh Brolin). Meanwhile, a shoeshine man, Manny (Giancarlo Giannini), and his strange young son, Chuy (Alexander Goodwin), have their own encounter with the insects.

If you are familiar with the genre at all, there are no plot twists here that seem surprising. What is surprising, however, are the chills and sense of terror that director Guillermo Del Toro truly delivers. The ingredients are very familiar, but when they are combined with the touch of a master chef, the result can still be exquisite.

The film’s setup is well done, and the first two-thirds are skillfully crafted. However, once all the elements are in place, and most of the secrets have been revealed, the pressure of the genre’s weight slows down the film’s momentum into its finale. At first, it seemed as if the film was excitingly veering into uncharted territory, but with a sharp turn, it moves back to the well trodden path.

Mira Sorvino is both appealing and believable as the geneticist in peril. Although the characters occassionally perform unwise actions from the view of the all-knowing audience, within their own perspectives, their actions are mostly justifiable (a rarity in horror films). In addition, Sorvino’s character is able to provide insights into insect behavior, providing the film with a couple unforseen twists.

If Mimic had held true to its promise throughout, it could have been a great film. However, the films loses its unique spark in its final half hour. The end result is a clone of Aliens (a good one, but a clone nevertheless).

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