Beginning with an H.R.Giger-styled title sequence featuring a mosquito reproductive process from larvae to maturity, the discomfort and itchiness Mosquito State instills in the viewer is felt from the start. Ending the opening credits with the literal metaphor of one bloodsucker landing on another is lost on no one in this introduction. However, the film’s atmosphere retains this density thanks to The Good Lord Bird‘s Beau Knapp and his rattling interpretation of the breakdown of a man who believes the world finds him repugnant. Richard Boca’s (Knapp) likeability never really rises. Still, you understand, as the man walks with a limp and says almost nothing for the first ten minutes, Richard isn’t your ordinary film protagonist.
Fourteen years ago, the world was a profoundly different place. Political change was on the horizon as the 2008 election loomed, and the financial markets teetered on the verge of collapse thanks to an encroaching subprime mortgage crisis. Mosquito State reflects on this era with Richard, an obsessive stock market data analyst, making millions for his boss, Edward (Unfaithful’s Olivier Martinez), on a self-made algorithm that analyzes wall street trends and has yet to fail him. After being introduced to the beautiful Lena (Wrong Turn’s Charlotte Vega), Richard finds a new obsession, and, just like his algorithm, everything has to be perfect.
Richard is a meek man who has achieved success without the limelight. In bringing Lena back to the cold, concrete walls of his high-rise apartment building—of which he’s purchased the entire floor for privacy—we quickly see the lavishness he indulges in. Flexing hard over vintner Lena, Richard reveals an entire apartment devoted to storing and aging fine wines treated like appreciating stocks. The two swap stories of how they became the people they are today, both from environmental studies. Richard with an analysis of how disappearing bees in California would lead to a drop in almond production and Lena’s study of how water affects the grapes in wine. Ending their night on the sour realization that the perfect bottle they’ve picked has spoiled, Richard slowly begins to unravel from the experience.
Mosquito State is far from what I expected based on the film’s initial synopsis, which contains the phrases “body horror” and “infestation.” Eventually, yes, it does contain those elements. Not with the approach of Cronenberg’s The Fly, but maybe more in the way of Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis. Director Filip Jan Rymsza is setting a scene of unchecked capitalism practices that sees Wall Street get rich at the expense of climate change and, in the case of the housing market, the displacement of nearly ten million people.
In the wake of the corked wine shared that evening, Richard finds that his algorithm begins to behave erratically as well. His perfect algorithm, which makes him the office’s golden goose, begins to fail. Like any self-loathing man coming off a bad date, Richard begins pouring hours in at work. The relatability is astounding. Only I’m not drinking vintage wine from illustrious wineries in offices or apartments with gorgeous cityscapes. Furthermore, when Richard comes home, he’s greeted by the army of mosquitos he’s begun breeding in his apartment. According to the background news report, the mosquitos, whose bites cause his face to bump and swell, may contain Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), a clue that could explain Richard’s behavior.
Rather than seeing the American Psycho approach of an egocentric wall street narcissist give in to his demons, Richard’s Kafkaesque personality presents a more introverted Michael Douglas-type character at the start of Falling Down, losing his viability in the workplace. Richard starts losing his grip when his algorithm fails and becomes more suspicious that his boss and coworker (Jack Kesy) are trying to push him out of the company. Instead of becoming outwardly toxic and destructive as Douglas does in Falling Down, Richard finds relief in his home life as more of a Renfield character, attending to his minions of tiny Draculas while struggling with his own humanity.
Mosquito State is interesting enough to give a shot, especially if you’re interested in seeing how these many different pieces come together. Still, the film never hits any of the real horror metrics its synopsis promises. Someone expecting Richard to transform into a humanoid bug monster would be better off taking in 2015’s Bite or a rewatch of The Fly because, outside of some slight body changes to Richard, this is a dark fairytale story of a financial management strategist with poor moral integrity finding the value in life outside of monetary properties. We see these aspects when Richard goes from a non-drinking wine enthusiast to opening a bottle every night to caring for his swarm of mosquitos as Willard Stiles would for a pack of rats.
Though the film may not check all of the boxes for the hardened gorehound, the film’s technical achievements are another story. The acting, cinematography, sound, and direction are above par, making Mosquito State a more elevated drama with horror musings that ultimately fade out without leaving so much as an itch to scratch beneath the surface of your skin.
Mosquito State premieres on Shudder on August 26.