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THE BUGS WILL FINALLY GET US

By Wi-Moto Nyoka  April 22, 2024 

We’re all afraid that roaches will revenge murder us. It’s not something spoken out loud but every now and then someone will tell a roach story that begins with them walking into a room barefoot and ends with a crunchy sound and bug guts on the soles of their feet. We cringe, we gag, we hope it will never be us, and fear every dark room we have to walk through to go to the bathroom late at night. From rats to water bugs, bed bugs to lantern flies, critters and urban life go hand in hand and the phrase “urban jungle” can be taken literally. Once part of an organic landscape, these animals did not go quietly into the night but instead staked their turf in our electric forests and have become icons in their own right as well as formidable aggressors.

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Mimic gets to the heart of our fear of the creepy crawlies but also touches on another underlying issue; that of our inability to create urban areas that aren’t ecological disasters and what the consequences of that are, will, or could be. Its premise of the do-good scientist Dr. Susan Tyler, played by Mira Sorvino (love her), releasing GMO bugs to save children from an outbreak provides an interesting protagonist; one that feels responsible for all of the deaths in the film. This sets up Dr. Susan Tyler as a final girl in search of atonement as well as survival. Every kill (and there are some excellent bug deaths!) is her fault, and she is in a race against time before all the big bug eggs hatch and we are dunzo. Though the film is described as a science fiction horror film I would argue that this is a straightforward creature feature and in the world of horror it falls under eco-horror. 

Let’s take a moment to define eco-horror. According to the internet, eco-horror means “ranging from pure fear of the unknown to wrestling with the collective guilt humans feel about the destruction they have caused to the planet, eco-horror grapples with the troubled relationship between humanity and the natural environment.” That’s all a city is; one big troubled relationship, our confusing feelings manifest into architecture, commerce, and parks. Since Covid, all films from the before times involving an outbreak feel prophetic. The opening scene of a cathedral-style hospital with young people gasping for air strikes a different note now. We have a deeper understanding of the connections between outbreaks and climate crisis which is what moves this film towards eco-horror and away from horror science fiction, or at the very least, blurs the lines. As we encroach on nature and make everything city, urban ecologies become THE ecology so much so that David Attenborough dedicated an entire episode to cities in one of the Planet Earth docuseries. 

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Though studies have shown the value of green space on mental and physical health, our toxic city ecologies prevail causing some interesting standoffs with a variety of critters. It was only a few summers ago when the Spotted Lanternfly hit the scene and everyone in the Northeastern part of the U.S. was given orders to kill on-site, making the insect enemy number one. Mayors and district representatives put out a hit via the news and we all happily played bug-squashing games to support our trees which were being destroyed by this invasive species. As fun as that may have been, it was not a sustainable plan. We don’t know how to deal with the bugs that thrive in our big cities and that makes it eco-horror time, all the time. Dr. Tyler and her band of sexy CDC workers (shout out to Josh Brolin) offer a kind of relief to this ever-present anxiety that has gone nowhere since the film’s release in 1997. In this story we beat the outbreak, we save the kids, we devastate the super roach population before it hacks us to death, all while dodging explosions like classic action heroes. In real life, none of us did much heroics during or after the Spotted Lanternfly invasion or any other (anybody remember when folks were battling bed bugs?) We hired exterminators, we got rid of clothes, sheets, and furniture, and we racked up credit card debt. Personally, I freeze my food waste and then put it in the garbage on garbage day. This is left over from when I was able to compost in my neighborhood before they stopped that service during the pandemic. It never picked back up again but I still do it. Summer months will hit and I am, like so many others, afraid that roaches will find my garbage no matter how clean I keep my home. It’s not just the gross factor or the terror of cleaning bug guts off my feet; it’s health, it’s money, it’s infestation, it’s eco-horror. 

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This is a good time to shout out the prolific horror guru director and writer of the film, Guillermo Del Toro, and the classic horror moments that he gave us in this little gem such as: 

  • Panning down to see the monster on the ceiling behind a character's head who has no idea they’re not alone and about to be eaten

  • Aliens style bug nest deep underground

  • Bug guts and viscera

  • Spreading guts on you to mask your scent (works with zombies too)

  • Faces that open up

  • Charles Dutton giving inspiring death speeches

  • Kid kills (Del Toro pulls no punches)

  • The NYC subway

As horror movies go this one delivers and leans into the environment of NYC by making good use of its never-ending sewers, abandoned train stations, and gothic lighting without losing sight of the message; we made this mess and we have to clean it up before we can rise again (Literally. They can’t get up to street level until they kill the king and burn the queen). This feels metaphoric, with the subway representing our base desires (Capitalism? Selfishness?) and the cleansing fire redeeming us and making us stewards of the planet instead of its destroyers. They never explain why the outbreak, why roaches, and why only children. Del Toro sets up a scenario where releasing an unknown into the bowls of our city feels justified. They’ve been designed to die, we have to save the children, what could go wrong? 
 

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Mimic is set apart because it positions us as villains from the start, well-intentioned as we may be. Del Toro is a horror maker who loves monsters and presents them with so much compassion you wonder who the bad guy really is. Dr. Tyler is the reason the superbugs exist and the only one who can stop them, we are the reason for eco-horror and the only ones who can stop climate crisis. The bugs are innocent. 

Nowadays there are green agendas all over the country to combat the toxic ecologies in our cities. There’s Tree Philly, a program whose goal is to reach 30% tree canopy coverage in every neighborhood,  urban gardening initiatives like Green Bronx Machine, which transforms empty lots into flourishing gardens that can provide fresh produce to neighboring schools, and many more. This is, of course, not enough. Unlike Dr. Tyler, we have no GMO bugs to release and destroy disease-carrying roaches or any other microbial threat (I hope!). The solution is simply that we should stop our nonsense and implement sustainable and less harmful city planning because we need each other: animals, humans, and plants. If not, the bugs will finally get us and we will deserve it. 

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Wi-Moto Nyoka is a horror and sci-fi writer. She is the founder of Dusky Projects, creating and producing genre projects for young adult and adult audiences.

Awards and honors include: Stowe Story Labs selected project, Independent Public Media Foundation grant recipient, Nightmares Film Festival Best Short Screenplay Award Winner, 13 Horror Screenplay Award Winner, Oregon Short Film Festival Best Horror Teleplay Award Winner and more. Published works can be found in Midnight & Indigo’s Speculative Fiction collection, Terror Unleashed: Volume 2, The Seelie Crow, The Last Girls Club magazine, and Dread Central. Follow her on IG @duskyprojects

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