Mimic Sentinel (2003)

Starring Karl Geary, Alexis Dziena, Rebecca Mader, Lance Henriksen, and Amanda Plummer

Directed by J.T. Petty

To: Dimension Films

From: The Rotten One

Thank you. For taking a chance. Recognizing fresh talent. Not letting a franchise ripe with possibilities sputter into an embarrassing oblivion. I’m knockin’ on coffin wood (preferably oak) that Mimic Sentinel is a signal of a new and improved Dimension Films. Time will tell, right?

Alright, now onto business…

Around the late-’90s the name “Guillermo del Toro” had not yet been tattooed on the tongues of fanboys everywhere. Then, he was just an import talent with unique vision to spare riding the wave of positive buzz surrounding his film festival favorite Cronos. Yet a fairly young American genre film division of Miramax, Dimension Films, brought del Toro aboard thus giving him an opportunity to cut his teeth on a studio genre picture.

The result, Mimic (1997), was a mixed bag at best – the result of studio tinkering and a third act finale that failed to live up to the mounting dread established in the first two-thirds of the film. However, the concept was unmistakably cool: Mutant bugs (the Judas breed) lurk in the shadows of New York City with an uncanny ability to appear “human” thanks to a funky exoskeleton. Birthed by scientific experimentation to wipe out sickness-spreading cockroaches these genetic rejects were all but left for toast when Guillermo was done with them.

That didn’t stop Dimension from unleashing the Judas insects one more time for Mimic 2 (2001) this time headed up by cinematographer and television director Jean de Segonzac. Bringing one of the original film’s uninteresting supporting characters to the forefront as the heroine was just one of this entry’s headache-inducing quandaries. Nevertheless, the bugs bit the big can of RAID in this one too.

But they’re back again.

Out of their ever-growing franchises – Dracula, Hellraiser, Halloween – Dimension seems bound and determined to do right by the concept initiated in Mimic and wouldn’t you know it: They’ve finally gotten it right. Or should I say: Rising storyteller and filmmaker J.T. Petty’s gotten it right. Kudos go to Dimension for snatching Petty up in the first place. Obviously the studio recognized, after seeing his indie project Soft for Digging, that this boy’s got that something to tell a story. And for that, the studio gets my commendations after months of berating them for shitpiles of celluloid like Dracula II.

Petty’s Mimic Sentinel (not Mimic 3, or Mimic 3: Sentinel) furthers the franchise’s core idea by simmering it down to a constructive, simple, and furthermore creative execution.

Burdened by his frail condition as a result of being the last of the Strickler’s Disease kids, Marvin (played by Geary), is a meek but not entirely helpless, 24-year-old who lives in a sterile bedroom located in his mother’s apartment. Through the lens of his tripod-mounted 35mm camera situated by the picture window, Marvin views the shady activity taking place on the sidewalks of his neighborhood; snapping off roll after roll of film, Marvin observes those who live in the apartment across from him as well. He gives each resident a name, perhaps to cure the insufferable loneliness of being isolated by four walls on a daily basis. Unbeknownst to his subjects, he’s become their unofficial still photo documentarian.

One resident in particular, has attracted his keen interest. “The Garbage Man” (Henriksen) – as Marvin and his sister, Rosy (Dziena), have coined this mystery figure. When the two witness a local drug dealer being murdered, their eyes lead them to believe that the Garbage Man is responsible. But they’re far from the correct intuitive mark… It seems a pair of “soldier” Judas bugs have scouted out Marvin’s neighborhood as prime nesting quarters and they’re deliberately skewering the residents over time.

Marvin gradually pieces together clues from his own photos and observations to come to this realization but by then it’s almost too late to save those he loves from the talons of the sharp-witted creatures.

Some directors often adhere to the coda that “bigger is better” when elevating a sequel to new heights and this often leads to a painful, over-explanatory, and sophisticated plot that doesn’t gel in the least bit. J.T. Petty drops all that bullshit to centralize on the characters at hand. Any and all scientific mumbo jumbo that weighed down the previous installments is swept under the carpet so the viewer can become engrossed with the heightened paranoia and fear Marvin experiences. Similar to what Hitchcock had done before in Rear Window, Petty gets us right up close and personal to Marvin and his camera. We become the voyeur eyeing those in the building across the way; we are the ones who witness, through the camera’s viewfinder, the Judas bugs slaying their victims…even when Marvin is out of the room. Some of the best shots of this film come courtesy from this viewpoint. For instance, we spy two of the Judas bugs in “human” form standing eerily still in someone’s apartment then…one suddenly moves when we least expect it.

Later, towards the film’s conclusion, Petty forces us to gaze at Marvin’s actions through our own “cropped” lens (a blackened ring fills the corners of your television set ala The Truman Show) as if we were still the voyeur. But this gimmick is too inconsistent to be effective. Seeing as I watched this on a full-screen advance screener, I wonder how this’ll look in the widescreen format.

Beyond the stylistic standpoint, I’ve got to give Petty a hand for painting his lead character portraits in a swift, sensible amount of set-up time. Marvin’s family is an amiable bunch if not dysfunctional and they’re played convincingly by Geary, Plummer, and Dziena. The same can be said for most of the cast, although, one tends to question what obligation to Dimension Henriksen to fill for taking such a small role in the film. Especially one that doesn’t seem to be a stretch for him in any sense of the word.

As for the bugs…creepy as ever. I’m pretty damn partial to their human guise. Their motionless pose is chilling to me and Petty milks the image to great effect. The Judas’ are much more efficient and brutal killing machines here too – often using their sythe-like claws to repeatedly pierce their prey and not giving a shit that they’re making a mess in the process!

Mimic Sentinel is easily one of 2003’s better surprises. It could be one of those sequels that’s on par, if not better, than its initial successor. Now, if something can only be done about that cover box art…

3 1/2 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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