Mosquito State is a film of many spinning plates. Not many of them will be left upright by the end, but the ones that director Filip Jan Rymsza keeps spinning prove to be engaging and unique, albeit a bit inert. It’s a horror film that isn’t particularly interested in scaring you, an allegory that can’t be bothered to keep a straight face, and a dark comedy that skews more dark than comedy. Mosquito State fits many genres, but the genre this reviewer found himself reaching for was tragedy; a creature feature set against the backdrop of financial and moral decay.
It’s trite and unfair at this point to compare the film to its obvious influences because while it may share space with The Fly or even Cosmopolis to some degree, Rymsza imbues the film with his own personal flourishes that give distance. It never settles on just being a mere copy, instead forging its own path on a subject that’s been dissected and torn apart in many films already. For instance, the opening sequence showing the life cycle of a mosquito is wonderful to look at and with Cezary Skubiszewski’s foreboding score gives a feeling for what’s to come, and there’s almost a fantastical element to all of this, as a follow a (rather goofy) CGI mosquito navigating through sewers and streets and eventually into our protagonist.
We meet Richard Boca (Beau Knapp) at a party filled with Wall Street suits and jock yuppie types. From the jump Richard stands out; a quiet and socially awkward man who slinks around by comparison to his boyish yuppie co-workers, even more so compared to his boss Edward Werner (played with immaculate charisma by Olivier Martinez). It is also here where Richard meets the object of his desire in Lena (Charlotte Vega), a woman who understands Richard in a way that not many at his workplace do. They head home together to Richard’s massive brutalist penthouse where the cold detachment becomes even more prevalent, almost a quasi-futuristic look. The penthouse will also be where a large majority of the film will take place, giving a sense of urban isolation, where we finally get into Richard’s head, and where the mosquito infestation begins.
Despite the penthouse giving a sense of a distant future, Rymsza makes sure the audience is aware through the use of news and sports clips that this is the past. When Richard’s algorithm detects a warning of the market crash only for it to be ignored and exploited, he takes matters into his own hands, enacting his own form of justice leading him on a surreal path towards redemption. While his character may lack a bit as a character, only a vessel to transport ideas, Knapp more than makes up for it with his transformative performance, selling the idea wonderfully of a man wanting to be heard and understood. When a coworker asks “Do you really think anything we do can affect the overall market?” Knapps exasperation at his disregard is palpable. “Do you think we’re too small,” he cries out, with a sense of anger and desperation.
A later scene between Richard and his secretary Sally (Audrey Wasilewski) highlights the immediate changes the mosquitos have taken on his psyche with him ranting and raving about mosquitos communicating with him, hunched over as if he were a mad scientist In this moment he is both Dr. Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster; a man created by emotionless Wall Street bankers, yet rebelling against his creator. Knapp understands the nuance and utilizes perfect body language to convey all of these emotions in such a short span of time. Truly compelling stuff.
The analogy of mosquitos and Wall Street however is a bit on the nose but more than that a lot of Mosquito State just feels… ridiculous? An office party with coworkers dancing in crowns and playing the Trump board game, dream sequences involving his boss in full matador gear, and some music choices that feel more at home within Mr. Robot than they do here all serve to make Mosquito State stand out, but feel too far out and weird for it to really have any real substance outside of its style. It never takes itself too seriously which is a good thing, but as a result a lot of the films lighter moments, like the aforementioned office party, feel ripped from another film entirely.
It was previously mentioned that it was hard to look away from this film and while a lot of that has to do with Knapp’s performance, special mention has to be thrown towards Eric Koretz’s absolutely stunning cinematography, where Richard’s penthouse view of Central Park glows with various shades and hues of reds, purples, and greens. Even exterior scenes within limos, office spaces, and parks render a feeling of a different world entirely, inviting you in, like a fly to sunlight. The comparison to Cronenberg is still unfair and one that I’m hesitant to make, but for these moments, they bring to mind Brandon Cronenberg more so than his father. The films slick presentation within Richard’s apartment and work place feels far more comfortable sharing space with sibling Possessor, another film that focuses on the metamorphosis of the body and psyche during a time of global transition (Possessor‘s focus on technology versus Mosquito States‘s focus on finance).
Mosquito State isn’t a bad film, but it never reaches the heights it aims for. While there are far better films that examine the effects the financial crisis has caused, they never go full tilt in the way this film does which is a credit to Rymsza’s creative vision and directing. While it may be on the nose to a somewhat annoying degree and far sillier than one would hope, the film still provides a lot of great imagery thanks to its cinematography and production design, not to mention its unnerving atmosphere. There’s a lot to like about Mosquito State, it’s just a shame that in spite of all of these qualities the film fumbles towards the finish line, unable to maintain the same energy that propelled us towards it.