Writer/director Filip Jan Rymsza’s Mosquito State transports us back to 2007, just months before the Great Recession. Remember those primary debates between a fresh-faced Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? How about “The Apprentice?” The film contains such clips, but at the center of the story lies an unlikely Wall Street trader, a data analyst who limps like Quasimodo and despises his uber macho trading partners. Mosquito State isn’t too subtle on the bloodsucking metaphors, but it also references the story of Samson to explore the protagonist’s metamorphosis. That’s the film’s saving grace.
Mosquito State offers An Unlikely Wall Street Guy
Beau Knapp stars as Richard Boca, a socially awkward data analyst. We’re first introduced to him at a party where his co-workers blow off steam and sip Cristal. He avoids them and heads to the food line. These guys ooze machismo and toxic masculinity. One quips that Hillary isn’t “man enough to be president,” while another asks, “And Obama is?”
The head tycoon, Edward (Olivier Martinez), keeps Richard around and calls him his “golden goose.” Richard has a talent, an elaborate system of computer models that makes his company a whole lot of money, as they predict what the markets may do. However, this wasn’t Richard’s dream job. In school, he studied bees, specifically the collapse of colonies, and what that means for food production. Instead of using his talents to address the ramifications of climate change, Richard works on Wall Street. Even if he’s an outcast, the money’s nice, and it feeds his data/prediction obsession.
When he’s bitten by a mosquito at the party, he develops strange lumps all over his body and the bugs take over his apartment. It’s never fully explained if this was caused by the West Nile Virus or something stranger, but it doesn’t need to be. As Richard’s condition worsens, he changes, and that’s the thrust of the film’s narrative.
His metamorphosis coincides with the Great Recession. Richard’s data tells him something’s up with the markets. When they start acting screwy, he freaks, but no one, including Edward, listens to him. Even worse, some of his co-workers, specifically the Gordon Gekko wannabe Beau (Jack Kesy), participate in the kind of speculative trading that crashed the economy in the first place.
A Recasting of Samson
There are a few not-so-subtle references to the biblical story of Samson from the Book of Judges. In short, Samson was a judge who rescued the people of Israel from Philistine oppression. A Nazarite from birth, he was given Herculean strength, which allowed him to fight the Philistines who occupied Israel. His wife, Delilah, betrayed him, and thus, Samson was captured by the Philistines, mocked, and bound. His life ended after he knocked down pillars supporting the building he had been taken to, killing himself and the Philistines inside.
Now, mind you, Richard is no great judge like Samson. He’s not given supreme physical strength, and as the bumps take over his body, he looks like the Elephant Man with a Quasimodo slow-walk. However, he does have a special power in his data analysis. No one else in his company possesses his sort of smarts, and that is what makes him valuable to his brute co-workers.
Like Samson, Richard has a Nazarite vow of his own. He doesn’t drink any wine. His work consumes him, to the point he melts down if he doesn’t wake up at about 4 am every morning. He remains dedicated to his job and the data, nothing else.
Lena as Delilah but with a Twist
If Richard is supposed to be Samson, then Lena (Charlotte Vega) is certainly his Delilah. She’s his love interest. After meeting Richard at the party, she follows him to his austere penthouse overlooking Central Park. There, she tries to get him to drink wine, but he refuses. She also mentions her lost cat named Samson. Not so subtle.
Yet, she’s initially associated with Richard’s co-workers, a special type of Philistine who obsesses about money and later ignores Richard’s warnings that the markets are about to tank. Delilah was sent by the Philistines to undermine and destroy Samson, which she does. However, though Lena is initially a foreigner, someone different who challenges Richard’s strict habits, she doesn’t intend to harm him.
If anything, in this retelling, Lena is a positive force. She encourages Richard to “let go.” She knows his obsessive habits are unhealthy, preventing him from trying anything fun in life. Further, she’s going to school for sustainability and has a passion for figuring out a better future. She does rely on Edward for money, but by the end of the film, she breaks from him and connects with Richard, instead of causing his downfall. It’s a clever twist on a familiar story.
After Richard’s mosquito bite, the film references the bug’s four stages- egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The film is broken up into these four sections, almost like chapters. Richard moves through these different stages as his infection (if you want to call it that) worsens. With each stage, his behavior changes. Eventually, he drinks wine and leaves passionate voicemails for Delilah. The must-wake-before sunrise Richard never would have dialed her number! He stops showing up to work, and after Edward ignores his warnings, he eventually stops caring.
Lena tells Richard to let go, and his metamorphosis allows him to do that. Once he does, he approaches her near the end of the film and unlike the night they met, he sleeps with her. The next morning, the camera zooms in on the alarm clock, which reads 9:52. Richard slept in more than four hours after his usual wake-up time without a meltdown.
Surrender and Acceptance in the Mosquito State
After Lena wakes, she gazes out the window and sees Richard in a robe, walking towards the water. Then it cuts to a surreal image of Richard on the bottom of the river. Mosquitos float in the water above. This can be read one of two ways. Either Richard accepted the changes, or he knew that market would totally tank, based on his models, and he understood he’d soon lose everything. I like to think he accepted his metamorphosis and realized the life of a mosquito is short. In those last hours, he made the most of it. There’s also the potential that, like a mosquito, he walks to the water because that’s where the bugs live. They need water to survive.
Lena, meanwhile, holds out her arm as a mosquito bites her. This too indicates that she accepts the outcome. She understands that she’ll end up like Richard because of those bugs swarming all around his apartment, carrying the disease. She’s last shown teary-eyed, as the mosquito drains her blood. By this point in the film, she decided to stop relying on Edward for money. So, like Richard, she too undergoes a major shift for the better. That tear may mean she knows Richard is about to kill himself. Or perhaps she understands that she’s breaking from her previous life, including Edward’s reliability. It will be a difficult change but necessarily. If she’s ever to grow and pursue her own goals, she must stop relying on him.
While Mosquito State drags during its dry middle, it makes creative use of the story of Samson. Wall Street bankers become the Philistines, and Richard is an unlikely Samson, physically deformed, but with a mind that supersedes all his co-workers’ capabilities. At least in this retelling, the Delilah figure has a positive influence, teaching the protagonist to live a little and focus on more than stocks. Some things are simply beyond our control, computer models be damned.
Mosquito State streams on Shudder starting August 26. Shudder is absolutely killing it with new content. If you want some other recommendations check out the rest of my reoccurring column, Shudder Secrets.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.