We toss that phrase around horror films a tad cavalierly — “skin-crawling.” But here’s a feature that earns that label. If you aren’t squirming — or a least itchy — watching “Mosquito State,” you must have never encountered a mosquito in the wild.
It’s about high finance, unpredictable markets, madness and computer modeling those unpredictable markets.
Richard or “Dicky” Boca (Beau Knapp of “The Good Lord Bird”) is the man whose “honeybee model” is proving flawed in the shaky days of 2007, leading to the financial meltdown of 2008. No one in his office will listen, but fate turns him toward other entomology and he gives his increasingly unhinged life and mind over to mosquitoes.
Will they bleed him out before the markets bleed his firm dry?
The film is not nearly as cut and dried as that, with much left unspoken or inferred in hallucinogenic images of Richard, staggering about his Manhattan penthouse in his tidy whiteys, drinking his too-valuable “investment” wines, giving mosquitos access to his ever-swelling epidermis and the run of the place.
Perhaps a woman triggered all this. Lena (Charlotte Vega of “American Assassin” and “The Bookshop”) is a student of wines and water conservation who seems destined — or ordered — to meet Richard at a company sponsored birthday party. The boss (Olivier Martinez) calls him his “golden goose,” and that means he shrugs off Richard’s quiet, on-the-spectrum anti-social behavior.
But our analyst/computer-modeler is rich, so the forward young wine expert invites herself to his stunning and austere apartment — he has but a single wine glass — and charms her way into his head.
As he obsessively tries to get back in touch with her, he notices lurches and starts in the market that his mathematical “honeybee” model didn’t predict. The woman, the markets and that damned mosquito who got down his shirt and into his apartment send Richard over the edge, raising mosquitoes and wearing the giant welts to prove it as he rages at the stock volatility he could not predict.
Filip Jan Rymsza is a filmmaker who likes the “fever dream” side of the cinematic tracks. He got a producing credit for getting Orson Welles’ disjointed, faintly dreamy and unfinished “The Other Side of the Wind” into some form of releasable shape. Rymsza’s two earlier directing credits, “Sandcastles” and “Dustclouds,” get that “fever dream” label as well.
Rymsza tends toward the obscurant here, stirring in office politics, where a rival labels Richard “the dumbest smart guy I know,” the politics of America in that 2007-2008 window and the warnings that Wall Street’s lifeblood is predation, creatures like sharks or mosquitos, can never stop feeding, even if they’re sealing their own fate.
“If we stop, we die.”
It doesn’t all coalesce into a coherent film. Breaking the story into cutesy “chapters” — “The Pupa,” “The Blood Feast,” “The Larva” — is a favorite crutch of second-rate screenwriters (I see three C-movies a week so ordered.) and doesn’t help it make sense. It just helps us count the “stages” until we know we’re at the end.
But Knapp throws himself into this character, giving us unhinged and letting us figure out the reasons for Richard’s derangement.
We may not buy the gorgeous wine expert indulging his attentions, although “mercenary” comes to mind. And we may get no clue about how these insect-based create-order-out-of-random volatility models might work.
“Mosquito State” still holds our attention, a visually arresting, fascinating failure that may have you reaching for the calamine lotion before it’s over.
Rating: unrated, kind of gross
Cast: Beau Knapp, Charlotte Vega, Jack Kesy and Olivier Martinez
Credits: Directed by Filip Jan Rymsza, script by Filip Jan Rymsza, Mario Zermeno A Shudder release.
Running time: 1:41