The End is the Beginning is the End: Mimic 2 (2001) & Mimic 3: Sentinel (2003)

Matty muses on the two straight-to-video sequels to Guillermo Del Toro’s Dimension-backed monster movie.

In horror circles, the difficult making of Mimic (1997) is legendary. The Hollywood debut of Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro, Mimic was prized from the now Academy Award-winning genre master’s hands by its conniving exec producers, Bob and — urgh — Harvey Weinstein, who, true to their well-documented form, promptly re-edited it. Famously at loggerheads with Del Toro throughout production, the Weinsteins’ criticisms rested on a pair of paradoxical non-issues. The first was that they believed Mimic wasn’t scary enough (HA!). And the second was that they thought Del Toro’s originally envisioned ending — in which one of the film’s masquerading bug-monsters revealed itself capable of copying a human perfectly — was stupid and too downbeat. While Del Toro has since proven the Weinsteins’ ‘this ain’t frightening’ accusation wrong with his excellent 2011 director’s cut, which is infinitely more elegant, tense, and nightmarish than the clunky, cattle prod jolt-heavy version of Mimic they pushed into theatres, his proposed coda never went before cameras. Typical, then, that said denouement would go on to inform both of the direct-to-video Mimic sequels that the Weinsteins greenlit for their Miramax genre arm, Dimension.

Ironically, in MIMIC 2 (2001), it’d be used as the sign off in its grand finale. It’s a great, icky closing passage: you can see it coming but the predictability doesn’t detract from how thrillingly delivered it is, helmer Jean de Seganzac lingering on the eerie, emotionally blank countenance of a giant insect wedging itself into a flesh suit. Better still is that it’s a wonderful punchline to the crux of the film’s drama. Taking the fringe character of lab assistant Remi (a role reprised by Alix Koromzay — a plucky, warm and engaging presence) from Mimic numero uno and turning her into the lead, the thrust of Mimic 2’s plot concerns her disastrous love life. After helping Mira Sorvino et al design the plague-eradicating Judas Breed roaches in the first movie, the bug-crazy Remi is now working as a high school biology teacher and her passion for creepy crawlies is cleverly juxtaposed with the procession of real creeps that try to infiltrate her life. Her encounters with a bolshy meathead and a pushy pervert are grim and toe-curling, and, today, seem scarily of the moment. Indeed, in hindsight, it’s hard not to read the digs at toxic masculinity that line producer/writer Joel Soisson’s script as euphemistic nods to the nefarious, ‘open secret’ exploits of his boss, the aforementioned shitbag Harvey Weinstein, who’s since been convicted of rape after years of deplorable casting couch practices. Further commentary can be eked when Remi’s distinctly unromantic adventures take a turn for the worse: somehow, she’s caught the amorous attentions of the last surviving Judas and, in a vaguely Fly (1986)-indebted twist, the ghastly and sexually aggressive monster wants to mate with her. I’ll leave you to draw your own parallels.      

Designed and supervised by Gary J. Tunnicliffe, the man responsible for the make-up and grue in a slew of Dimension-backed programmers [1], the delightful creature FX are Mimic 2’s obvious highlight — particularly when the genetically engineered beast is terrorising a trapped Remi and a couple of her young charges in the shadowy corridors and classrooms of the school. Ditto the eye-catching style that de Seganzac infuses the film with. Eschewing the gothic flavour of Del Toro in favour of something more cartoon-y and comic book, de Seganzac’s sleek, if set-bound, aesthetic is heavily dependent upon bold splashes of colour, neon, rain machines, and bronchitis-inducing levels of smoke and dry ice [2]. And though a little over-reliant on TV blocking and staging (no surprise in retrospect: a camera op and cinematographer by trade, de Seganzac has since gone on to work primarily in the small screen arena), his intensive use of close-ups accentuate the character-focused bent of what amounts to a sharply penned and snappily paced little sci-shocker that tiptoes into Aliens (1986)-inspired action terrain once the eternally brilliant Edward Albert and his military goons swoop in. 

Having lensed Mimic 2 in Los Angeles and Vancouver, the Weinsteins encouraged Soisson and his company, Neo Art & Logic, to mount MIMIC 3: SENTINEL (2003) in Bucharest, Romania, in tandem with a slate of other Dimension-financed Neo flicks made in the Balkan nation [3]. Largely avoiding the explicit action trappings present in Mimic 1 and 2 (well, save for an explosive final reel that predates Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) in its questionable use of a fridge as blast protection), Mimic 3 is a quieter, ‘Rear Window (1954) with bugs’ psychological nerve-wracker that marks a double return of sorts. 

Recruited by Dimension talent scouts impressed by his distinguished festival fav Soft For Digging (2001), Mimic 3 is the sophomore feature of writer/director J.T. Petty. In concept, Petty goes back to the simple ‘mysterious stranger in an apartment’ premise of Donald A. Wollheim’s eponymous 1942 short story on which the original Mimic was (very loosely) based; in execution, he mercilessly flirts with Del Toro’s vetoed conclusion for the dramatic meat and tension. Primarily unfolding in a grimy, Kafka-esque tenement, Mimic 3 slice-o-lifedly details the existence Marvin (Karl Geary), a germaphobe survivor of the disease that the Judas Breed were designed to eradicate in Mimic 1. Terrified of getting sick again, Marvin has barricaded himself in the apartment he shares with his sister (Alexis Dziena) and mum (Amanda Plummer), and lives vicariously through the neighbours he nicknames, photographs and spies on. The newest is the strange figure cut by a scene-chewingly intense Lance Henriksen — and for a good chunk of Mimic 3’s duration, it’s the idea of whether Henriksen’s black-clad ‘Garbageman’ is or isn’t the next stage of the Judas Breed’s evolution that’s the mystery that nudges this charismatic and claustrophobic goose-pimpler forward.  

Of course, what frustrates is that, once the actual answer is revealed, it feels a bit of a misstep; it opens the film up too much, reducing the fizzing sense of static dread that Petty, until then, had so expertly conjured. Still, relatively speaking, it’s a minor gripe as the divulgence facilitates what’s arguably the most visually arresting moment in the entire Mimic trilogy, when Petty throws us into the middle of a brutal alley massacre conducted by a bunch of rampaging Judas’. Additional nightmare fuel is fostered by Petty’s art-horror approach: his employment of leering voyeuristic camerawork (a single-take prowl around a ransacked, blood-splattered apartment is sublime), and a rumbling Lynchian soundscape that emphasises awkward, deliberately perturbing silent pauses between evasive, non-sequitur dialogue and a radio that constantly plays weird fiddle music. Petty’s neatest touch, mind, is his savage streak of social satire. Per the Rear Window dictum, Marvin initially has a tough time convincing friends, family, and the authorities that anything odd is occurring — a point Petty accentuates due to the hungry critters’ penchant for preying on down n’ outs, people of colour, and anyone else generally dismissed and marginalised by ‘polite’ society.

[1] Tunnicliffe’s discipline-hopping Dimension gigs include: supplying the make-up on a multitude of Prophecy, Dracula, Feast and Scary Movie joints, and all of their Hellraiser sequels: (Bloodline (1996), Inferno (2000), Hellseeker (2002), Deader (2005), Hellworld (2005), Revelations (2011), and Judgment (2018)); writing the script for Hellraiser: Revelations; and writing, directing, and starring in Hellraiser: Judgment. Whew.
[2] Incidentally, on the subject of sets, Mimic 2’s apartment set also features in Dimension’s Soisson-produced Children of the Corn: Revelation (2001).
[3] See: Hellraisers Deader (2005) and Hellworld (2005); the back-to-back Dracula II: Ascension (2003) and Dracula III: Legacy (2005); and the Soisson directed Prophecy instalments, The Prophecy: Uprising (2005) and The Prophecy: Forsaken (2005).

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