S.L.I.F.F. Review: ‘Mosquito Kingdom’ – We Are Movie Geeks

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S.L.I.F.F. Review: ‘Mosquito Kingdom’

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I remember back in the mid to late ’90s after ‘Pulp Fiction’ came out.   There were countless amounts of knockoffs, films that wanted to infuse that same sense of cool that came from the combination of sharp-witted dialogue with over-the-top violence.   Most of the people behind these films wanted just a taste of the success that Tarantino found with his earlier films.   Most of them dropped the ball completely.   So, now, 17 years after ‘Reservoir Dogs’, 14 years after ‘Pulp Fiction’, and a number of years since the wave that followed those two films seemed to dissipate, it’s kind of mind-numbing to watch a film that still tries to capture that same style.

‘Mosquito Kingdom’ is a film directed by local, St. Louis filmmakers who shot the film throughout the St. Louis area and an island in the Florida Keys. The story follows a group of criminals who are sent to a desolate island when they become too much trouble for their crime boss to handle. This is intercut with flashback scenes of one character in particular, Ash, played by Chad Bockholdt, and how he came to be on the island.

It’s an interesting idea, one that the directors, Derek Elz and Brad Hodge, and the writer, Jed Ayres, may possibly revisit someday with a bigger budget.   ‘Mosquito Kingdom’ was shot guerrilla-style, on digital cameras and with a budget of not even $100,000.   However, the film, shot primarily in black and white, looks amazing.   Elz served as cinematographer on the film, as well, and he gives the film a milieu that compares to the best of film noir.   The blacks within the shots are stark black, and the white are rather dirty looking.   Elz’s visual style, filled with shadowy faces and smoke-filled rooms, gives certain locations found throughout St. Louis a Gothic feel.

Unfortunately, this is where the pros found in ‘Mosquito Kingdom’ abruptly end.   Just about everything else involved with the making of this film comes off as amateurish and cheap.   That’s not something that comes from the budget, though.   Several decent films were made for $100,000 or less, but this film wears its tawdriness like a leisure suit.   At times, it’s almost as if it is flaunting the fact that is has such a low budget.

The biggest agitation in the film comes from the acting.   The actors and actresses involved may not be bad at their craft.   The guerrilla style of the making of the film, with the script being rewritten time and time again to adapt, seemingly took its toll on the actors while filming in Florida.   The actors involved seem distracted by the production, and this comes across on camera.   Bockholdt holds his own in the film’s leading role.   Jaxon Stanford as Woodrell, the crime boss, is decent enough.   Everyone else just seems to be doing this as a favor to a friend.   There’s no real passion to be found on any of the actors’ faces.

For the most part, Elz’s camera work is stunning.   However, the film is sporadically told through split-screens that add nothing but unwanted distraction.   Other times the shots go to inverted colors or sepia tones, and that, too, is very distracting.   It’s unfortunate that Elz couldn’t stick with what worked for him.   When the film cuts into these different styles, it comes off like a college student showing off his newly installed video editing software.   This stuff was “cutting edge” eight years ago on Avid.

The story jumps back and forth in its timeline frequently, and it adds nothing to the plot.   It would have worked just fine, better, in fact, to have been told completely linear.   It’s yet another instance where the filmmakers tried to emulate something Tarantino did nearly 20 years ago and for no other reason than to prove how big of Tarantino fans they are.   Don’t even get me started on the torture scene that is played to the tune of an upbeat, pop song.   Sound familiar?   That kind of imitation is just blatant and unwarranted.

You have to give credit to anyone who sets out to make a film and succeeds.   By whatever means possible, it is an accomplishment for any filmmaker to get his or her film completed.   ‘Mosquito Kingdom’ is an example of guerrilla-style filmmaking that would have greatly benefited from a bigger budget.   That would have helped the acting, and it probably would have helped the direction problems.   However, the budget has nothing to do with the script issues the film has.   Totally excising the nonlinear form and taking out any unashamed rip-offs of other films, particularly those by Tarantino, would have left us with a decently crafted and interesting screenplay.   As it is, ‘Mosquito Kingdom’ only works as an exercise in black and white filmmaking, the only thing this film does right.

[Overall: 2 stars out of 5]

Festival Screening Date: Sunday, November 23 @ 5:45 pm(Tivoli)