Sociopathy in film is a topic explored almost exclusively in tense thrillers or dramatic character studies. Some examples in recent memory are Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler, the neurotic cameraman hunting for a big news footage score, or Rosamund Pike’s iconic Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, the missing person at the heart of the affair. Sociopathy is rarely explored in a comedic manner, which is exactly what writer-director Thomas Mazziotti aspires to do with The Mimic.

Inspired by true events in Mazziotti’s life, The Mimic follows an unnamed protagonist, The Narrator (Thomas Sadoski), and an unnamed foe, The Kid (Jake Robinson) as the latter invades the life of the former in increasingly concerning ways. Worried The Kid is out to take over his life, The Narrator seeks to explore exactly who The Kid is, what makes him tick, and why he’s out to copy his world.

One of The Mimic’s defining features is its drum solo dialogue, the kind of rapid-fire witty script you see in films like The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Social Network, filled to the brim with clever wordplay that fire at you at such a pace you’ll surely have missed one laughing at the previous one. It’s an impressive feat to see the two leads, Sadoski and Robinson, deliver the dialogue with ease, exchanging witticisms in deliriously long takes.

Sadoski feels the most in his element here, having cut his teeth in theatre and working with Aaron Sorkin on The Newsroom, but it’s no less impressive seeing his pitch perfect delivery of complex puns en route to executing the main point of the conversation (“there’s an addict in the attic?” is a genuinely humorous aside in an already bewildering dinner scene). Robinson, meanwhile, keeps up with the speedy discussion with strong moments of his own, punctuated by an impressive facial performance, complete with manic but not-untrustworthy eyes.

The Mimic is flooded with scenes like the dinner scene; the film has a very episodic structure to it, moving from location to location to re-enact conversations had by Mazziotti on life, platonic and romantic relationships, and grief. At times, the script comes across as almost-too-perfect, in which The Narrator is merely a vessel for the writer to express his exact thoughts, but this doesn’t detract from the efficacy of the storytelling. It becomes increasingly apparent as certain scenes unfold that there may be an unreliable narrator in our midst given the film’s intrinsically biased viewpoint of events from main character and writer-director equally. The Narrator’s unreliability is called into question throughout, whether blatantly filmed on a soundstage and not trying to hide it or recovering from a dramatic car accident with the sitcom-like thick, white neck braces, there is always an air of uncertainty.

There are sequences when The Mimic’s ambition often exceeds its execution. The film opens with an instantaneous fourth wall break, but such breaks rarely happen thereafter; to not embrace them further, particularly as the film becomes more meta as we reach its conclusion, feels like a missed opportunity. In its second act, the film literally exits from its world entirely and lands us in the writers’ room, with a fictional script editor talking with the film’s fictional director to discuss where next to take the story. It’s a surprising moment and a creative solution to the storytelling corner it had painted itself into, but its purpose doesn’t work regarding the film’s plot. The editor and the director have conversations the characters in the film would be unable to hold, certainly, but it felt like a break from the momentum the film had been building up to that point.

That said, The Mimic and Mazziotti must be commended for creating a film that has an unbridled energy to it that’s wholeheartedly embraced by its cast. Its dinner sequence is surely going to be a revisited scene time and time again, both as a riff on My Dinner with Andre but also for its genuinely effective character development for these two rivals on a mission to discover which of them, neither, or both, is a sociopath. The film’s final sequence, in which The Narrator enters The Kid’s world for the first time by visiting The Kid and his never-seen wife’s home brings all their conversations to a head as they finally get to the heart of the matter – The Narrator coming to terms with the loss of his wife. As a curiously meta parable on loss, The Mimic shines, but I worry it tries to do so much within its brisk 81 minutes that the key message may get lost in the mire.

The film’s final scene is a succinct summary of what works and doesn’t work in the film. The Narrator and The Kid engage in an active back-and-forth discussion-cum-argument about love while engaging in an active back-and-forth game of tennis. The conversation should be the focus of the scene, but the shenanigans around it come close to undermining it. Nevertheless, The Mimic is an engaging, funny, kooky look at sociopathy in a way you have never seen before.

Rating: ★★★½

The Mimic is available on VOD from 5 February 2021.