‘Mosquito State’ Review: Tedious Allegory for the Financial Crisis Has Grisly Imagery, But Draws No Blood

Filip Jan Rymsza's first feature in 13 years picks up where 2007 left off, envisioning the then-imminent crash as an insect apocalypse.

'Mosquito State' Review: A Financial-Crisis Body Horror Without Bite
Courtesy of WFDiF

The sound design of “Mosquito State” takes the title as a mission statement. Across much of its running time, the sonic backdrop is a veritable chorus of mosquitoes whining in high, overbearing harmony, providing their own sinister vocal track to a more conventionally orchestrated score. You have to be confident in your film’s power to transfix its audience even as it’s liable to drive any anopheliphobics in the room to delirium, and Polish-American director Filip Jan Rymsza seems to be: His body horror-tinged allegory for the global financial crisis of 2007 swaggers with slick, nasty formal showmanship designed to get under the viewer’s skin. But it’s all in service of pretty thin ideas about capitalist decline and masculinity in crisis, played out by thinner characters still: The longer it needles, the more one is inclined to swat it away.

As it happens, “Mosquito State” is the first feature Rymsza has directed since the year in which it is set: 2007, as he’s all too eager to clarify throughout with superfluous flashes of newscasts about Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, Rupert Murdoch purchasing Dow Jones, and so on. It throws in a few ominously underlined glimpses of Donald Trump in “The Apprentice” for good measure: Subtlety is not the name of the game here.

It was a different world then, as Rymsza — who has since become better known as a producer behind the reconstructions of Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind” and “Hopper/Welles,” also premiering at Venice this year — is keen to stress, and he builds to a feverish metaphor for a historical tipping point. Certainly, his film’s blend of broad Wall Street parody and CGI-loaded end-of-days imagery might have seemed more cutting-edge back then.

An elaborately designed opening credit sequence — by no less a veteran than Dan Perri, of “Star Wars” and “The Exorcist” renown — illustrates the developmental stages of a mosquito in grisly anatomical detail, from egg to larva to pupa to imago. These also serve as the film’s chapter headings, announced with luridly painted, quasi-Biblical title cards, in what amounts to more an ornate affectation than a significant structural system. From here, we open on a digitally rendered mosquito in full, singing flight, swooping through the tunnels and streets of Manhattan, before descending into a high-end corporate soirée for a heedlessly money-splashing brokerage firm headed by dashing silver wolf Edward Werner (Olivier Martinez).

In this room of tall, oily finance bros and their sequin-clad arm candy, prodigious but antisocial data analyst Richard Boca (Beau Knapp) cuts an anxious, awkward figure — like Quasimodo dressed in Brooks Brothers hand-me-downs. It’s apparently his ingenious “Honeybee” numbers model that keeps the firm thriving, yet he’s treated like the hired help by all but Lena (Charlotte Vega), a statuesque environmental studies student who improbably takes a fancy to Richard and returns with him to his cavernous concrete loft. But she’s not all he takes home: Unbeknownst to him, that pesky mosquito lands on his neck and settles in for the long haul.

Richard’s seduction of Lena is a bust, but the mosquito makes herself right at home, procreating in a glass of water and setting in motion a teeming insect colonization of his hitherto lifeless apartment. Cue the film’s lurch from glassy “American Psycho” satire into Cronenbergia-lite, as Richard increasingly submits his gnarled body to his blood-sucking new roommates, breaking out in vividly rendered sores, swellings and welts all over — while at the office, his precious charts reveal volatile, unpredictable market shifts that only he seems to be concerned about. Only our knowledge of subsequent events can guide us as to whether he’s simply delusional or the one unheard prophet of the impending crash.

The plague-like overtones of the mosquito uprising are clear enough, but allegorically, “Mosquito State” isn’t much more precise or penetrating than that. Richard suffers extensively for his capitalist enabling, but bar some striking shots of roiling scarlet skies outside his plate-glass windows, the retribution doesn’t extend to the outside world. That narrowness of focus makes the film, for all escalating grotesquerie, increasingly tedious — despite the all-in commitment of Knapp, whose physically tortured performance appears to take its cue from Nicolas Cage in “Vampire’s Kiss,” albeit on a heavy prescription of downers. His fellow cast members get no such room to flex, cramped as they are in flat good-girl/fat-cat archetypes.

Formal components of the film are impressive, if not entirely coordinated: The vast glittery-charcoal minimalism of Eric Koretz’s lensing and Marek Warszewski’s production design clash starkly with the high kitsch of other graphic flourishes, to no great effect. “Mosquito State” gradually allows its mise-en-scène to swamp its human narrative, not that the latter offers us much to care about anyway. As far as we’re concerned, the mosquitoes can have it all.

‘Mosquito State’ Review: Tedious Allegory for the Financial Crisis Has Grisly Imagery, But Draws No Blood

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (noncompeting), Sept. 3, 2020. Running time: 101 MIN.

  • Production: (Poland-U.S.) A WFDiF presentation of a Royal Road Entertainment production in co-production with Lightcraft. (International sales: Creative Artists Agency, Los Angeles.) Producers: Włodzimierz Niderhaus, Maciej Stanecki, Filip Jan Rymsza, Alyssa Swanzey, Daniel Markowicz.
  • Crew: Director: Filip Jan Rymsza. Screenplay: Rymsza, Mario Zermeno. Camera: Eric Koretz. Editors: Andrew Hafitz, Bob Murawski, Wojciech Janas. Music: Cezary Skubiszewski.
  • With: Beau Knapp, Charlotte Vega, Olivier Martinez, Jack Kesy, Audrey Wasilewski . (English dialogue)