Mosquito State

Mosquito State (2020)

Mosquito State first published by

The title sequence with which Filip Jan Rymsza’s Mosquito State opens is set on a microscopic scale. Extreme close-ups show an island of mosquito eggs floating on water, the larvae within developing into pupae, and then emerging as an adult imago. It is a metamorphic cycle, with each of these stages freeze-framing into hand-drawn entomological illustrations that include in their text the names of cast and crew. Finally the camera tracks a fully-formed mosquito as it hatches, flies up from the sewer, out into the night of New York City and through the open window of a grand building, until it hovers over the monied traders, bankers and dealers attending a swanky soirée within. It is a sequence which starts small and builds up, revealing the invisible yet intimate connections between the metropolis’ grubby underbelly and its shining if never immaculate élites and power brokers. Like the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings, that one tiny mosquito will bring with it a wave of ramifying consequences, as it settles vampirically  on the neck of Richard Boca (Beau Knapp) for its blood meal.

Data analyst Richard may be, as his boss Edward Werner (Olivier Martinez) describes him, the ‘golden goose’ of his company, but he is hardly the life of the party, even when that party is his own. Where alpha colleagues like Beau Harris (Jack Kesy) boast obnoxiously about their new prototype iPhone and loudly harass any women present, Richard remains aloof and awkward, uncomfortable in his suit – even in his own skin – and staggering and stooped as though an insect himself. Lena del Alcázar (Charlotte Vega) is also fed up with unwanted attention at the party, and so leaves with Richard, drawn to his taciturn shyness like a moth to a flame. While Lena is certainly beguiled by the exquisite minimalist penthouse apartment where Richard lives – entirely alone – overlooking Central Park like a distant god, she can also see there is no one really at home, and that Richard’s extreme introversion and alienation resonate with the bare walls and clinical emptiness of the rooms. When Richard – himself a non-drinker – discovers that one of the expensive wines which he collects as an investment opportunity has been tainted by the imperfections of its own cork, this offence to his sense of order leads him to throw a childish hissy fit, and the evening comes to an abrupt end with Lena leaving – but not before she tells him: “You have to learn to let things go.”

A prisoner to his own tics and compulsions, Richard cannot stand the infectious intrusion of taints and imperfections, of grit and dirt, into his carefully contained environment. Yet he has also brought that mosquito in with him from the party, and spurred on in part by Lena’s words, he decides indeed to let things go, and to seek change. So, instead of killing the insect, he furnishes the circumstances – bowls of water, humidification, rotting fruit – that will enable it to flourish and breed, creating a new shared ecosystem. Now Richard has his own pet, not unlike Lena’s lost cat which significantly shares its name, Samsa, with the insectoid protagonist of Franz Kafka’s short story The Metamorphosis (1915). Meanwhile, the algorithmic programme that Richard has designed – modelled on the behaviour of bees – “to anticipate what will happen next” is indeed foreseeing a different kind of bug in the system, the coming global financial crisis (the film’s events take place in early August, 2007). Richard tries to warn Edward and his colleagues, but nobody will listen to this crazy-eyed Cassandra

“I’m sick,” Richard tells his increasingly alarmed secretary (Audrey Wasilewski), by way of an excuse for both his erratic behaviour and his AWOL work status. A psychologised monster movie, Mosquito State matches Richard’s mental fragmentation to a very conspicuous physical deterioration, as his reactions to insect bites make him resemble a grotesque understudy for Seth Brundle from David Cronenberg‘s The Fly (1986), all to the accompaniment of Eric Koretz’s insistently buzzing score. Yet this is also a story of micro-  and macro-economics, of the personal and the political, as one man’s transformative breakdown runs in parallel to the end of a global financial cycle. Rymsza’s film looks forward not just to the destructive 2007 credit crunch, but also to the subsequent rise of Richard’s neighbour Trump and of the Murdoch brand of dumbed-down propagandisitc ‘news’ – but it also holds out the promise, modelled on the lowest lifeforms, of rebirth and re-emergence from the dark waters of societal collapse. After all, as below, so above.  

Strap: Filip Jan Rymsza’s modern monster movie is a tragic parable of insects, economics and the cycles of metamorphosis. 

Anton Bitel