Mosquito State is a profoundly annoying film. Believe it or not, this is meant as the highest compliment. Writer/director Filip Jan Rymsza probably wouldn’t take it that way, but he’s made a rare example of a movie enhanced by intentional sustained irritation. Think of it as the reverse of a cookout in hot weather when the blood-sucking nuisances the film’s title derives from are out in full force. There’s truly nothing like a swarm of mosquitos to ruin your picnic. Not even surprise tropical storms compare. A thorough soaking is always preferable to getting your plasma drained by insects.
Mosquito State’s soundtrack layers incessant whining over grave, thundering double bass: Boom, zizz, boom, zizz, thunder undercut by high-pitched droning. That aural contrast adds to the experience of watching Wall Street quant Richard Boca (Beau Knapp) slowly lose his marbles during the United States’ inevitable march toward economic disaster in 2007. Richard’s a math whiz who designs computer models for unpredictable financial markets, and he’s also a loner on the spectrum. He’s happier in the office or his austere Manhattan penthouse than he is mingling in public with other people, which makes his appearance at his own birthday party, thrown by his boss Edward (Olivier Martinez), daunting and awkward.
During this soiree Edward introduces Richard to the lithe, ambitious Lena (Charlotte Vega). After she and Richard improbably leave together, she tells him she’s studying water conservation as well as wine. They talk shop. The particulars of their conversation don’t matter to the extent that large chunks of it comprise finance-speak, which will soar over the heads of most everyone in Rymsza’s audience, but this is okay: Making sense of what they’re talking about (when they aren’t talking about the basics of wine tasting) is really secondary to tuning into the chemistry between them, the inescapable sensations of danger, mystery and sexual tension that breeds between two constitutional outsiders. Lena’s casual, easy amiability distracts from the fact that she isn’t from Richard’s world.
He brings another guest home with him from the party: A mosquito, which deftly avoids the swing of his newspaper when he tries to kill it and quickly turns still water in a glass into a nursery for more mosquitos, which beget more mosquitos. Before long, Richard’s pad is inhabited by thousands of tiny winged roommates, his whole body is peppered by bites and his grip on his sanity rapidly erodes. Rymsza explains little and leaves much to interpretation—for instance why, exactly, no one drags Richard’s ass to the hospital when he arrives at the office with his face swollen like Joseph Merrick, reduced but still alarming.
Maybe Rymsza imagines that finance bros don’t really care about each other’s health as long as they’re making money. Maybe the swelling isn’t as bad as it seems. On the other hand, Richard addresses the massive swarm buzzing about his high-rise like he’s reciting Shakespearean drama. It doesn’t matter where Rymsza has drawn the line where reality parts from delusion, because for Richard, that line doesn’t exist, and if he shouldn’t have perfect clarity then neither should the rest of us. The whirling cloud occupying his home resembles apocalyptic visions from Jeff Nichols’ 2011 film Take Shelter, which is also couched in the perspective of a man buckling under extreme mental duress: What’s important is that Richard believes what he’s seeing, not the audience. Our only job is to believe Richard.
That’s a task left to Knapp, who plays Richard with twitchy introversion married with an almost uncanny sense of confidence. Richard’s social graces are limited, but he’s good at what he does, and he’s bright, and he knows both of these things to be true; his certainty in his gifts make up for his shortcomings as a people person. Knapp communicates pride subsumed by anxiety, a tricky line to toe. This is his show. Rymsza leaves plenty of room for the rest of his cast to act, of course, but their performances, save maybe Vega’s, don’t inform the film the way Knapp’s does. The nervous energy he uses to ground Richard in his delusion cuts through Mosquito State’s nauseating elements, and as a cousin to body horror, there’s enough stomach-churning material to make the movie otherwise unpleasant to sit through.
But Knapp, with Rymsza’s direction, somehow settles the nerves instead of setting them off. Richard is a doomspeaker who is himself doomed, and that alongside the mosquitos’ piercing hum should make the film intolerable. They do not. They mellow it out into one of the season’s more unique horror offerings instead.
Director: Filip Jan Rymsza
Writers: Filip Jan Rymsza, Mario Zermeno
Starring: Beau Knapp, Charlotte Vega, Jack Kesy, Olivier Martinez, Audrey Wasilewski
Release Date: August 26, 2021
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.