Directed by William Friedkin
“They live in your bloooood! And they feed on your braaaaain!” says the grisly trailer narration for Bug, a statement that couldn’t be more misleading. If there’s anything worse than brain sucking parasites, it’s the spin doctors in studio marketing and this is your classic case of an atypical film billed as something it’s not. In reality, Bug has about as much to do with killer crawlies as King of the Ants does with giant rampaging insects. Rather it’s a powerful study of isolation and paranoia revolving around two seriously disturbed individuals.
The film finally re-awakens director William Friedkin from one serious creative coma. For over a decade, the legendary filmmaker has cranked out works that have entered and exited the public consciousness faster than the clear cola craze. Leave it to the horror genre to put the man back on track. Coincidentally Bug not only marks a return to form, it’s also Friedkin’s best film since The Exorcist.
Adapted from a stage play, the backdrop is set almost entirely within the confines of a seedy Oklahoma motel room where waitress Agnes (Ashley Judd) is holed up. Suffering from anxiety and an abusive ex-boyfriend, the unsocial gal spends her days locked away from life’s problems. But that all changes when a friend brings over a mysterious drifter named Peter (Michael Shannon) who ends up spending the night. He’s a verbal kaleidoscope – an odd but engaging fellow who begins to pull Agnes out of her shell. Little by little, she finds herself drawn into his world and the two eventually form an inseparable bond. Then Peter notices the “bugs” in her motel room, and without saying too much, things get strange. Very strange.
Bug has a lot in common with Dan Mintz’s Cookers to the point where the two could easily share a double bill. Both are deliberately-paced “character freak-out” movies revolving around isolated individuals who slip deeper and deeper into obsession and insanity. Tension kicks in from frame one, and for most of the first act, Friedkin does what he does best: instilling the mundane with an underlying sense of dread. As character relations wind tighter, so does the environment around them (the film sports some incredible set designs) until it all comes to a boil and explodes in your face.
The acting in Bug is damn near flawless. Having long been pigeon-holed as the “Hollywood Suspense Girl”, Ashley Judd breaks away from the glitz and glamour and into full white trash mode with ease. All dirtied up, she’s emotional, sympathetic, and most importantly, believable in one of the best paranoid roles you’ll see this year. Even more amazing is actor Michael Shannon who has been imported directly from the stage play. You’ll probably recognize him from the bit-part weirdoes he’s played over the years, and as a starring weirdo, he’s an absolute revelation. His performance is pitch perfect – lovable, endearing, and frightening all at the same time. Amazingly, as his character becomes more unhinged and over the top, he never once slips and delivers some of the most jaw-dropping and hyper-kinetic monologues ever performed. These are two incredibly gifted actors and their chemistry – which is the crux of the story – is absolutely riveting.
Bug is as far from the mainstream as it gets and it certainly won’t click with everyone. There will even be people who debate its status as a horror film (they’d be dead wrong). But the simple fact is this: Elitist film snobs and critics may continue to thumb their noses at the genre, but it has just brought one of cinema’s most esteemed directors back into his game. Yes, folks, William Friedkin – as you know him – has returned! Let’s hope he’s here to stay.
4 1/2 out of 5
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