Director – William Friedkin
Cast – Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick Jr., Lynn Collins, Brían F. O’Byrne
Release Year – 2006
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This film debuted a decade ago and despite receiving good reviews from critics I didn’t care to see this film. Why? Because its director, William Friedkin – director of The Exorcist, stated that despite marketing and what critics had said – this is not a horror film. I decided to give it a watch out of boredom and found that, in my opinion, this is a psychological horror/thriller. This film is surely not for everyone, as it can be a draining experience. It also did not deliver the payoff I was hoping for, so I can’t say I would watch this again. However, with tremendous acting performances and an unsettling final act, there is an audience out there for this experience.
Ashley Judd stars as Agnes, a lonely waitress holed up in a lowly motel. With her abusive ex husband recently released from prison, she takes in a kind stranger in Peter Evans (Michael Shannon). As their friendship turns to romance their fragile states of mind are exposed. Peter believes their bug infestation is the result of a government experiment stemming from his days in the Gulf War. As they struggle to contain the infestation the lines between reality and delusion are blurred, leading to a downward spiral with a terrifying conclusion.
This story is written by Tracy Letts and is an adaptation of his play, which also starred Michael Shannon. It takes a while to get going and spends most of the first act giving us insight into Agnes and the life she lives. She has a troubled past and her past seems to have caught up with her when her ex husband finds her hideout. Her fragile emotional state is compounded by the addition of Peter to her life. She identifies with him, as he too has his demons he is running from. We are left in the dark at first over what his past entails, with constant revelations coming forth throughout the remainder of the film. He seems to have a big problem with the tiny bugs he claims to find in the motel room. His claims about the bugs grow more and more outlandish, to the point where he believes they are in his bloodstream and he must go through drastic measure to rid himself of them. Agnes is sucked into this mess and their delusion is what gives this effort its horror. They lose themselves to this belief that the bugs in their motel are tied to the appearance of strange men that have come looking for Peter. The actions of Peter and Agnes grow to daibolical extremes that include bodily mutilation and murder. This is where the horror becomes tangible, making this more than a psychological horror flick. The final sequences are intense and are definitely the highlight of the film.
Whether or not it is worth waiting so long for the horror to grow to this level will be up to the viewer. For me, I would not give this another watch. It is a good story, but it is not for me. The dialogue, while good, annoyed me at times. Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd are so great in their performances that they got too under my skin. This is a testament to William Friedkin’s direction as well, which is top notch. He creates good tension and makes the most of the single location used for 95% of the film. My biggest balk with the film is its use of the “bugs”. (Spoilers Approaching) This is one of those stories where you should be left wondering whether or not there really are mind-altering bugs in the room. Either these two are crazy, or they are right and they are screwed. I felt that the film lacked the mystique of keeping us in the dark with this. The story definitely leans more towards them being crazy than this actually being a creature film, so the climax isn’t as enjoyable as it could have been. Had there been more convincing sequences to hint at the possibility of the bugs being real then I would have been much more into the film, and the development would have been more engaging as well.
Overall, Bug is a love/hate experience that I would not outirghtly suggest to anyone. It has its crowd, but even then, I can’t see anyone wanting to see this more than once.