Boo! Genetic Engineering!
Mimic (starring Mira Sorvino and Jeremy Northam) is a really stylish thriller. Granted, it’s full of mostly nothing we haven’t seen before in Alien and its sequels and imitators, but this may be the most beautifully shot horror movie I’ve ever seen. The opening scene, set in a hospital ward full of dying children hidden in beds tented with white sheets, is simultaneously gorgeous and terrifying (and reminiscent of 12 Monkeys). The whole movie, set in New York but not filmed there, is drenched in golds and browns and midnight blues and feels slightly overexposed, lending a mysterious, portentous air to the proceedings.
Mimic, of course, is about mutant, human-size cockroaches living under the subways and preying on New Yorkers, and it reminded me of those other giant-bug movies of the ’50s that keep turning up on Mystery Science Theater 3000. There is the intrepid lady scientist determined to get to the root of the crisis, her equally bold and adventurous husband, a simple child fascinated by the monsters, the salt-of-the-earth cop. There are the standard “look out behind you!” thrills. There are the stock speeches about humans monkeying in things they don’t understand.
And in the same way that those ’50s movies didn’t really scare us with giant bugs but with the radiation that invariably created them, Mimic isn’t really meant to scare us with giant bugs but with the genetic engineering that created them. The spectre of nuclear war with the Russians was the big fear at the height of the cold war; today it’s the suspicion that that genetically engineered tomato is gonna jump off your salad and bite your nose or that armies of cloned sheep are gonna take over the world.
So today we get movies that warn us that the domain in which man was not meant to meddle is genetics. Jurassic Park‘s Ian Malcolm argued thus strenuously. (In fact, there is some dialog in Mimic that is remarkable similar to Malcolm’s “life finds a way” speech.) The upcoming Alien Resurrection apparently features a cloned Ripley, whom, I predict, will not be quite the force for good she was in previous movies. I don’t know much about AR — this really is just a guess — but clones have been trouble in any movie that isn’t a comedy (i.e., Multiplicity).
(Nuclear weapons, on the other hand, seem to be treated much more lightly than in the past, now that the possibility of all-life-as-we-know-it-destroyed war has retreated. A nuke is deployed almost casually by the U.S. president in Independence Day, and Peacemaker — opening this week — appears to have terrorism (albeit nuclear terrorism) as its bugaboo. We’ll see…)
Fifty years from now we’ll be seeing films with bugs made giant by nanotechnology or cold fusion or some other science we’ve yet to discover and tame. I guarantee it.