Mimic (Dimension) gives you the heebie-jeebies. A stylish B horror movie about giant insects in the catacombs of Manhattan, it’s by turns queasy, gross, terrifying, and — never underestimate this one — enthusiastically dumb. It’s everything you want in a big-bug thriller. The insects in Mimic are winged mutants that look like a cross between a cockroach and a praying mantis. They leap about an abandoned subway station with the obscene pitter-patter speed of the monster fetus in Alien. That 1979 creep show, with its shocks and its goo, its primordial sick-dream imagery, is the obvious model for Mimic. In essence, Mimic is a don’t-go-in-the-basement movie — or, in this case, a don’t-slice-open-that-giant-pink-egg-sac-with-a-switchblade movie.
When the children of New York are threatened by a deadly virus carried by bugs, Mira Sorvino, an entomologist, saves the day by creating a powerful new strain of mutant creepy crawler. The freak insects, which are supposed to die within six months, instead replicate themselves by thousands of generations. They begin to ”mimic” their human predators — i.e., they develop facelike armor, as well as a way of standing around enfolding their wings like overcoats. Mostly, though, they’re huge. Anyone who has ever been jolted by the sight of a water bug in a bathtub will respond to the skin-crawling ickiness of a movie that features insects the size of grizzly bears.
Guillermo Del Toro, the director of Mimic, appears to have absorbed all there is to learn about the low-down art of manipulating an audience. He knows exactly how long to hold a shot, how to orchestrate the whooshes, clanks, and roars on a soundtrack so that we’re held in a constant state of kinesthetic anxiety. This brand of fun-house craftsmanship isn’t nearly as common as it should be. That said, there’s a fundamental cheesiness to Mimic. Scream, the previous horror movie released by Dimension Films (the genre division of Miramax), also reveled in schlock thrills, but with a witty, Pirandellian self-consciousness. Mimic recycles the id-tickling queasiness of Alien in a pat, been-there-done-that way. F. Murray Abraham, as a scientist, wraps his furrowed brow around howlers like ”This thing is not just some…random mutation!” Sorvino, in a quasi-thankless role, teeters between actress and scream queen. The real stars of Mimic are, of course, the bugs: ominous, razor-limbed beasts that flutter through the subway tunnels with lightning abandon. If only the trains moved that fast. B+