The real story, the background story, the astounding story, would tell of how a young Mexican director, with but a single art-house credit to his name, came to America to make a movie, made a completely commercial and conventional scare show, and held onto his integrity in the bargain. The ostensible story, meanwhile, tells of how a strain of laboratory-bred insects -- labelled the Judas Breed -- was released into the cockroach population of New York City in order to poison the primary carriers of an epidemic that threatens to wipe out the city's children. It does its job; it saves the children. But then, three years after, with its artificially accelerated life cycle, it has mutated into a subway-dwelling army of man-sized arthropods -- a superfly, if you please -- an überbug -- with an innate insectile ability to copy the contours of its foremost enemy and favorite meal: man. Guillermo del Toro (Cronos) has here taken up one of the great underlying and unifying themes of the science-fiction and horror genres: evolution (its aberrations, its advances). And he has set it down in a well-developed and evocative context, with much emphasis on children (the death of children; the desire to conceive a child; a pair of self-advancing, profit-motivated street kids; and one "special child," a nicely drawn character, and nicely drawn into the action, who "speaks to" the mimicking insects by mimicking them in turn, mimicking their clicking sounds, by means of a couple of soup spoons), and with an urban underground locale that stands in symbolically for a primordial swamp from which to launch an alternative evolution, or else (if you dare go that far) for some reproductive labyrinth of birth canal, Fallopian tubes, uterus. He even introduces, in passing, and very quickly passé, a man of God who tumbles to his death beneath a neon cross ("Jesus Saves") and who vanishes down a sewer drain. Clearly, del Toro knows exactly what he is doing. And Mimic immediately takes its place as an express stop on the cinematic subway route that connects to a couple of British shockers, Five Million Years to Earth (known in its own land as Quatermass and the Pit) and Raw Meat (known at home as Death-Line). First-class company. With Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Charles S. Dutton, F. Murray Abraham. 1997.

Duncan Shepherd

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