***/**** Image B+
Sound A Extras A
starring Karl Geary, Amanda Plummer, Alexis Dziena, Rebecca Mader
written and directed by J.T. Petty
by Walter Chaw Written and directed by wunderkind J.T. Petty, the second sequel to Guillermo Del Toro's underestimated and, admittedly, somewhat botched Mimic is a self-confessed "Rear Window with giant man-eating cockroaches" marked by a strong sense of camp and a visual style humming with a cohesive, kinetic logic that indicates, possibly, the emergence of a major genre talent. Between Mimic 3: Sentinel ("Mimic: Sentinel" on its title card and hereafter "Sentinel") and his remarkable feature debut, the mostly silent NYU student film Soft for Digging, Petty betrays a genuine gift for cinematic storytelling, stripping down dialogue to a skeletal structure and relying on the force of his images for the bulk of the exposition. Accordingly, the parts of Sentinel that bog down are the parts that rely too much on the cast to provide backstory and motivation when the best, most poetic bits of the picture are the first ten minutes (including its credit sequence) that tells all one needs to know without a word of dialogue.
Marvin (Karl Geary) has had his immune system ravaged by Strickler's Disease--he's a child, in essence of the pestilence that inspired the creation of the "Judas Breed" of insect that got out of control, Jurassic Park-like, in the first film, learning to mimic mankind in an effort to make us their primary prey. Marvin is the bad guy's spiritual half-brother, then, both products and now victims of the biological fallout of created species and untreatable diseases. Looking at the Mimic series as a sort of allegory of the dangers of technology is a given; locating a man-child, his room encased in a plastic sheath and taking pictures of his neighbours for a collage on his wall, as the centre of a Mimic sequel is something like a stroke of (derivative) genius. Marvin's wide-eyed and feral sister Rosy (Alexis Dzienza, sort of a cross between Christina Ricci and Fairuza Balk) embodies half of Grace Kelly's role from Rear Window while Carmen (Rebecca Mader) fills out the other half plus Ms. Torso. Amanda Plummer, in possibly her most sedate role ever, plays Marvin's mother, and B-legend Lance Henriksen is "The Garbage Man," a guy with a secret who essentially reprises the Raymond Burr role of villain/MacGuffin.
The two sequences that stand out are the aforementioned prologue/credit sequence and a finale shot from inside a refrigerator that should go down as some sort of classic of claustrophobic invention. Henriksen delivers the best line of dialogue ("Well...fuck") and Petty demonstrates an admirable sadism in dispatching with the majority of his cast in as insectile a way as possible. Given the extreme low budget (the film was shot on a shoestring in Budapest), the special effects look pretty credible, with Petty wisely deciding to spend most of the time with the creatures in the background or swathed in shadow, understanding that Sentinel is a picture of ideas--an unusually faithful recreation of Hitchcock's film possessed of a similar, mordant sense of humour, if an understandable surfeit of corresponding depth. Not a complete success, Sentinel, like the stray film in the Children of the Corn and Hellraiser direct-to-video series (IV and V respectively), succeeds based on a talented director and a smart use of atmosphere. J.T. Petty, incidentally, appears to be the real deal.
Dimension releases Mimic 3: Sentinel in a vibrant 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen video transfer that pops and sizzles even with a few moments of distracting edge enhancement. Shadow levels are excellent, a vital thing given the film's almost exclusively nighttime milieu--a few spikes and light bleeds seem more a product of design than a mastering defect. Colours are sharp, and bleached interiors are reproduced with sterile fidelity; though some of the blood looks a little orange, blame is probably better placed at the foot of budget deficiency. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix is punchy, the final three chapters, in particular, making great use of all channels. The abovementioned refrigerator peril sequence is a model of sound design.
A feature-length commentary from Petty is conversational and informative, particularly of the lengths to which the young filmmaker needed to kowtow to the whims of his producers. An introductory moment that, in retrospect, doesn't make a whole lot of sense is explained as a result of an executive concerned that there wasn't any blood on the screen for, like, forty-five seconds. The challenges of shooting a film with Romanian extras, which necessitated script changes (so that dialogue could be avoided) and the importing of American actors, is commented upon as well. It's a fascinating track in that Petty's strengths seem to have been played to by the difficulties imposed by a low-budget production--I'd be interested to see if a little more cash would actually hamper him. A medium-length "making of" featurette regurgitates a little of the commentary while offering a couple of clips from Soft for Digging that might inspire someone to finally give it a home video release. Petty demonstrates a strong sense of perspective, acknowledging that he's essentially a hired gun on this production and making note of the camp value of giant bugs hungry for human flesh. Five audition reels are the sort of thing that make one marvel that casting ever takes place, rounding out the special features on what is finally, if potential holds, an interesting way station on the way to something bigger. Originally published: November 12, 2003.