OCTOBER 6, 2012
I originally misread Mimesis' title as "Mimesies", which would suggest a movie about impish killer mimes (would watch), and then when I re-read it I figured it was a made up word. But no, as I know now, "mimesis" is actually the term for the act of copying or impersonating, and thus quite apropos for the film, which concerns a group of deranged horror fans forcing people to act out Night Of The Living Dead for their own amusement. Seriously though, someone do that killer mime thing.
As most horror fans know, NOTLD is in the public domain, which means you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want with it for your own film (or business). Most of the time, this just means putting it on one of the TVs in your movie, because you don't have to worry about obtaining rights or permission (and unlike most public domain horror films it's iconic enough to be instantly recognizable). But here, writer/director Douglas Schulze has done something more interesting - his plot has a group of seven strangers kidnapped/drugged one night, and when they wake up the next morning they are dressed as Barbara, Ben, Cooper, and the rest. Any good horror fan in the audience will figure it out a lot quicker than the characters do, but in a way their ignorance (most of them AREN'T big horror fans, to be fair) is part of the fun. WE know why "Ben" is in that truck, WE know who those people in the basement are, but they're trying to piece it together using things like logic. It's one of the rare occasions where knowing a lot more than your characters actually works for the film (there's also a great bit where one sees one of the original film's full-screen newscasts and thinks it's a live broadcast about "rescue stations"). It also pays off in another way, as a character who is set up to be a primary character is tasked with playing "Johnny", so we know how long his lifespan is.
However, that's the only "fact" about the first film they really stick to; beyond the clothes and the location (and the "zombie" menace, obviously), the antagonists aren't too anal about recreating the film beat for beat. Without spoiling much, the body count among the seven is different, and those who die do so in a different order and location than their 1968 counterparts. Likewise, they're not completely inhabiting the roles; this Barbara is closer to the Savini remake version of the character, and "Tom" is kind of an asshole. But on the same note, it's interesting how they argue like the originals but over different matters; this time around, Ben and Cooper are at odds over whether or not to run to the shed for supplies, or to the truck for a chance at escape. And what little bit of the shell-shocked original Barbara remains seems to be mostly due to her modern day counterpart's hideous new clothes. It's not a complaint - I like that once the second half kicks in it doesn't matter if you know NOTLD inside and out or have never seen it with regards to what happens next - but it DOES add slightly to one of the film's major issues.
And that would be the vagueness and rather ineffectiveness of its villains. We never get to know too much about these guys, or even how many of them there are, and it seems kind of odd that they'd go to so much trouble to secure a similar farmhouse (and dress it to look as it should in 1968; the quick paint job and such are nice touches) and find fitting people for the main roles, but then do nothing to ensure things play out even remotely similar to how they did before. I was expecting that the little girl would be sick (via an injection or poison of some sort), or that some sort of valuable asset would be locked up outside (if not an actual gas pump), but once everyone wakes up in the house the bad guys just let them do their own thing. And it's not until the very end that they make their intentions known or show any of their real personality, so they never come off as a real threat. Apparently a sequel is already shot and in post-production, so perhaps they were holding back because they knew they were making more (love that they're already nearly done with a second film without even waiting to see what people thought of the first), but that's a less-than-ideal way to go about making a film. If you're well into your franchise and have thus guaranteed the public interest is strong enough to warrant another film even if this one tanks (see: Saw 6 --> Saw 3D), fine, but the first time out of the gate, perhaps the MO should be to leave us WANTING more, not practically REQUIRING it.
But if they're still in post, perhaps there is time to make a suggestion for Mimesis 2: Hypermime that can singlehandedly make it better than the original: lay off on the speed ramps and Avid farts! The entire film is marred with clumsy, unmotivated Zack Snyder wannabe shots where people suddenly slow down and then speed up, often on rather average actions like walking into a room or down a flight of stairs. Then almost every single kill scene is given the hyper-edit flashes and double vision shots that accompany the trap scenes in the average Saw film. I am baffled why a movie that is paying homage to a classic horror film would utilize these overused, very modern techniques that serve only to distract the intelligent audience members that would serve as the only ones that appreciate the nods to NOTLD in the first place. The misguided young folks who think Platinum Dunes' remakes are superior to the originals will be just as clueless as some of the characters when it comes to recognizing visual cues from Romero's landmark film, so why even bother putting them in if you're catering to the ADD crowd with all these garish post-production tricks? Oh, there's a lot of piss-poor digital blood splatter too, for good measure. The film works best when they're sticking to things they can do in camera or at least pull off rather simply with color timing - there's a terrific bit where "Ben" finds "Johnny", and it's framed in a way that the only real color in the scene (amidst their black/white/gray clothes and similar colored stones and such around them) is the red on Johnny's wounds. THAT is an effective blend of old and new - these goofy flash-cuts and such are just a constant reminder of a time when horror films had a little more restraint and class.
The editing as a whole is actually a sore point. The film runs somewhere between 95-100 minutes, where just north of 80 would have been fine. Scenes drag, action scenes lack panache (the truck blowing up in particular - the characters stand around and scream for the character in the vehicle not to turn the key, but he fumbles about for so long that they could have casually strolled over and explained things to him by the time he finally starts it up), and there's a really jarring, unnecessary subplot about a guy wiping off his zombie makeup and trying to join the protagonists that could have been excised entirely. Sid Haig's character also serves no real purpose in the long run, which just adds to the general feeling that the film could have benefited from another pass or two at the script and then a fresh pair of eyes on the "final" edit to make suggestions at cutting it down further. Since the villains pose no real threat, the slack could have been picked up with a leaner pace so we could at least get to their big exposition scene quicker. It also would have given us less time spent with a character who we're not supposed to recognize as someone from the first part of the movie (she had makeup on then), as its built as a twist but doesn't quite work at all.
Oh, and the sound mix was atrocious. Odd gaps, mismatched room tone, dialogue drowned out by music, etc. I can give them the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to the theater, but 8 shorts and two other features all sounded fine, so that's not likely (and the one legit review from a previous festival showing pointed out the sound issues as well). I know I'm coming off harsh in these last couple paragraphs, but it's frustrating - I really loved the movie's concept and most of its execution (the actors were all solid too, I should note), but it seems like they didn't spend any time really thinking about their film in post production, which crippled its potential. Nearly all of its issues could have been fixed or at least improved with better editing and sound mixing, and the fact that they've already gone ahead and made a sequel before this one was really released just sort of adds to that issue - it's like they don't have any patience to finish one thing before moving on to the next. Calm down, Mimesis production team! You had a really good film in your fingers and you let it slip by, ending up with a fair one instead. Don't make the same mistake with the sequel.
What say you?