Mimic 3: Sentinel

Fear Window: The Third Installment of the Mimic Series Infests Your Senses.

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I know, "Mimic 3?" I can explain. Hear me out, please. It's been several months I think since I've contributed to HE, and I do feel kind of bad about that. But there are a few good reasons, if any reason not to share the glory of all things scary can ever be called "good".

Firstly, this summer I banged out a fantasy/horror screenplay that I've been meaning to finish for some time. As a result, after hours and hours of writing, day in and out, I was simply too exhausted to settle down and review a film, especially after my day job also requires my scribe services. Secondly, and most importantly, I couldn't find anything that I really wanted to cover for all of you. I tend to choose my reviews in two ways: either it's for a film that is popular and fresh in the minds of visitors to HE, or it's for a film likely forgotten or missed, and I feel the need to share my thoughts about it for reasons that I feel will interest those here. Since I determined popular first-run fare to be at a low ebb at present, and I hadn't really come across anything old or overlooked that needed resurrecting, I didn't have a surge of energy to battle through my cranium carpal tunnel and squeeze one in.

But along came a spider - or more accurately, a creepy promise of tangled webs and spindly limbs that held lots of promise called Dead Silence. One look at the antagonist - a septuagenarian female ventriloquist with huge, evil eyes and a wide, evil smile - chilled me to the bone, and I began to get excited. The film's connection to the Saw franchise only peaked my interest further, so I made haste and filed it into my Netflix queue. After viewing it, I realized that there wasn't much to recommend outside of a little nifty treatment of some hackneyed horror motifs and a fairly likable performance by new jack horror-vet, Donnie Walberg. Therefore, despite my good intentions, the air on that summer review went out like it was an old beach ball.

So as I flicked around the tube for something to watch the other night, my remote landed on an insect of another ilk: Mimic 3: Sentinel. I remembered the first one being okay but forgettable and a little bit dull, so I never even bothered to check for a second. But trapped in my bed between the last of the summer reruns, I gave the third installment a shot. Imagine my surprise when I found that this straight to DVD affair from 2003 was stylishly directed, well cast, well acted and downright ambitious. And when it was time to bring the horror, it did so with the merciless aplomb of a two-fisted Raid attack.

The main character, Marvin (Karl Geary, look for him in The Burrowers some time in 2008) is allergic to life, basically. A bubble boy heavily reliant on the oxygen tanks stored under the sink, he likes to take photographs of life around the gloomy, New York City apartment building in which he's quarantined. He lives there with his overbearing mother played by a very game Amanda Plummer (Needful Things, Pulp Fiction, Satan's Little Helper) and his friendly but functionally distracted pothead sister, Rosy (Alexis Dziena, "Invasion", Wonderland) whom he watches cavort with the local drug dealer through the viewfinder of his camera. He's also pretty fixated on gorgeous neighbor Carmen (Rebecca Mader, "Lost") and another tenant whom he calls "The Garbage Man" played by perennial B-horror king, Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Alien vs. Predator and Pumpkinhead I, II & III). Immediately, Hitchcock's Rear Window comes to mind, and the director T. J. Petty (a game scripter of such titles as Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell and Pandora Tomorrow) never tries to hide the influence. What he does do is switch the action effectively back and forth from the safe and dry environs of Marvin's room to the dank alley outside his window where some mysteriously loitering figures in long black coats are emerging from the sewer and picking off passersby as per their whim. They're vicious, morally vacant and not afraid to make a mess.

I must say I found myself lamenting a wilting second act, caused most notably by a very passive main character who seemed to lack even the courage to yell something intelligible rather than simply back away and half-choke a reaction to what he's witnessing. And then there's the customary difficulty in getting anyone to believe him when he shares his vicarious experiences, which felt at once forced and feeble. I understand that Petty needed him to feel very alone and helpless in his nightmare, but I felt that that part could have been handled by the writers with a few clever connotations to the elusive nature of a real infestation. In other words, why not inadvertently chase them away with searchlights so that only one who is sitting in wait in the dark at a specific vantage point can spot them, or have an officer find a real bug at the end of his lens which would have enlarged its appearance, providing a little comedic relief? Combined with an overdose of oxygen, his concerns could have easily been written off as a mixture of paranoid delusion and cabin fever, which wouldn't have gone questioned for long. Instead, they place a disbelieving gumshoe into a romantic relationship with mommy conducted almost entirely in her bedroom, presumably to get her out of the way. These are all small details, however, and if the filmmakers felt a little lost in the middle third of this cracker, they certainly found their way back to the cupboard in the last.

When the six-legged assailants are finally drawn out into the open, it's a joy to sit back and watch them go to work. Being a screenwriter, I love to try and discern how filmmakers use their wits and a limited budget to get the most out of a story. Is the final conflict the greatest piece of visual storytelling in the world? Not even close. But for pure, horrific and violent glee, it beats a lot of what's on offer lately. The climax is a proper donnybrook that seems terrifyingly eager to trash the set along with a few of the characters, and if you don't mind cranking up your disbelief where necessary, you're bound to have fun.

Mimic 3: Sentinel isn't likely to join any of your horror classics on the shelf, nor do I think it will drop off the tongue in the midsts of your next heated Hitchkock retrospection. But to supplement your horror needs until the next big thing comes along (which might actually be Saw IV, as what I've seen of it so far looks damn good), this polished and surprisingly stylish pestfest should do you just fine.

Reviewed by Scott Norton