Due to an epidemic affecting children that happens to be carried by cockroaches, New York entomologist Dr. Susan (Mira Sorvino) engineers a “Judas” beetle that will kill the nasties. In the process, the Judas beetle keeps mutating—so much so that it begins to “mimic its predator”—us. It’s up to Susan, her partner Dr. Peter (Jeremy Northam), cops Leonard (Charles S. Dutton) and Josh (Josh Brolin), shoeshine guy Manny (Giancarlo Giannini), and Manny’s grandson Chuy (Alexander Goodwin), who can imitate the bugs with spoons, to go into the sewer and kill off the male that’s doing all the impregnating.
The idea of giant flying insects that at times wear clothes to blend in and have faces that look kinda human sounds ludicrous, but del Toro makes it work. (I read recently that del Toro had to fight with the producers, the Weinsteins, over many aspects of the film, and was ultimately unhappy with it. Supposedly Sorvino and her then-boyfriend, Quentin Tarentino, came to del Toro’s aid to keep him from being fired.) The film draws on many of our ingrained fears: disease, pests, danger to our children, the dark, the unknown. Not to mention the relatively new fear of the consequences of scientific meddling with nature (though, again according to IMDB, del Toro didn’t want there to be a scientific explanation). It’s creepy, suspenseful, and often disgusting, especially a scene when Susan busts open a roach and rubs its scent glands on everybody so they smell like the bugs and won’t get attacked.
Good special effects and great performances abound, particularly by Sorvino. Susan is clinical yet compassionate, as well as brave and highly intelligent. While the men in the movie are constantly losing their tempers, she doesn’t let her emotions control her, whether it’s disappointment about not being pregnant or fear of being torn apart by an insect.
Because she knows the most about the situation in the sewer, she’s the boss. Totally relevant both back when Dolly the sheep was a new phenomenon and today with all the newfangled diseases floating around, it’s pretty scary and very thought-provoking. Give it a look if you’re in the mood to get bugged.