The Mosquito Coast review: New Apple show makes up for lack of buzz with breathtaking scale and a brash Justin Theroux
The Mosquito Coast is the kind of show in which the central conflict could immediately be neutralised if its characters displayed even the slightest bit of common sense. But because they don’t, we get seven legitimately thrilling episodes of a television series that is better than it had any reason to be.
Based (only in part) on Paul Theroux’s novel, the lavish Apple TV+ adventure stars his nephew Justin Theroux in the lead role. He plays an eccentric inventor who uproots his family from California and marches them across the border, into Mexico. His reasons for doing so are both unbelievably complicated and objectively silly. Allie Fox and his wife, Margot, have been living in hiding for a decade, evading shady organisations and menacing assassins. Their kids — Dina and Charlie — have been brought up in a radicalised environment that rejects all technology, and subsists only on what they can forage from the Earth.
Watch The Mosquito Coast trailer here
Allie, who does odd jobs at a local factory, is a genius inventor who has a tendency to deliver long, rambling speeches about the ills of consumerism. On the run from the cops in one scene, their cover having finally been blown, he observes some homeless people and decides to deliver a sermon to his daughter. “They’re people, and we throw them away. You want to know why? Because these people committed the greatest sin in this country; they’ve stopped consuming. So we throw them away.”
Allie’s past is a mystery that is only partially uncovered through the show’s first season, which often resembles the first act of a larger story. The Mosquito Coast appears to have graduated from the Breaking Bad school of storytelling, tonally and stylistically. It is streamlined to a fault, and relies more on atmosphere than actual plot.
An entire episode is devoted to the Fox family’s trek across the desert, as they escape from the clutches of a couple of government agents, and hire a coyote to guide them into Mexico. On their journey, they come across mass graves, memorials to those who have died making the perilous journey, and an Army bombing range made to resemble a generic Middle Eastern town — all reminders of America’s obsession with death. This is a neat symbolic switcheroo — they even cross paths with a group of immigrants going in the opposite direction.
Had the show been smarter about it, some of its sweeping allegories would’ve been fun to examine — like Moses, Allie leads his family to the promised land; like Jesus, he guarantees them salvation. But he is a pain in the butt to be around. Not only does Allie have an acute God Complex, he is also selfish, egocentric, and on crucial occasions, cowardly.
Over time, he is confronted with the harsh reality that as much as he despises his birth country, and everything that it stands for, Budweiser runs in his blood. He throws money at his problems, lives in the belief that anyone can be bought, and crumbles when he comes face-to-face with actual criminals. Allie can afford to be idealistic because he has experienced privilege.
Which brings me to the casting of Justin Theroux. There is little about his appearance or his general screen presence to suggest that he could play a minor cult leader. He looks too much like a biker dude to be overwhelmed by nature, as Allie often is. And he most certainly doesn’t resemble a bespectacled Harrison Ford, who starred in the film version of The Mosquito Coast many years ago. After having carefully considered the evidence, I have come to the following conclusion: Theroux was hired mostly because the family connection would make for an interesting pull.
The scope of the show, however, is breathtaking, especially in the first couple of episodes, directed by Rupert Wyatt. The Mosquito Coast, with its location filming, lush score, and visibly intricate production design, has the look and feel of something important. But the lack of resolution sticks out. It leaves you in an emotional limbo, unconvinced whether or not you’re invested enough to tune in for another season. The Mosquito Coast is worth checking out, though, like so many excellent Apple shows that you've been sleeping on because of an utter lack of buzz.
The Mosquito Coast
Creator - Neil Cross
Cast - Justin Theroux, Melissa George, Logan Polish, Gabriel Bateman