Bug is a welcome return to form for director William Friedkin, the mastermind behind such landmark masterpieces as The French Connection and The Exorcist. The film is an adaptation of Tracy Letts' play about a couple of misfits who isolate from the rest of the world in a rundown Oklahoma motel room in which they fall in love, crack up and destroy each other. It is also a dark visionary and apocalyptic allegory of the current worldwide mindset driven by terrorist threats, wars and paranoia.
The story involves a down in the dumps bartender with an addiction problem named Agnes that also has an abusive ex husband and a tragic past that has alienated her from the rest of the world. One night she meets Peter, another broken up soul with an unusual obsession with bugs that he believes infect his cells and may have been implanted by the government. These two misfits end up falling in love and it's clear that they are on the edge heading for a crash. Agnes begins to share his obsession with bugs, succumbing to a paranoid fantasy that ties together all of the fears they've ever had about anything in one crazy conspiracy theory. The result is part twisted love story, part horror story (peppered with some very dark humor) of two lonely paranoid delusionals who find some sort of twisted salvation by sinking into madness in each other’s arms.
This is Friedkin’s most personal film since his 1980 film Cruising. His technical mastery intertwining realism with sudden flashes of stylistic embellishment brilliantly evokes the subjective experience of the characters madness. As he proved with The Exorcist, Friedkin’s complex sound design strongly contributes to the build up of tension with a variety of unsettling noises. He also edits and composes images, so that the setting's claustrophobia is palpable yet not stifling.
Friedkin understands that the most effective kind of horror often comes from tiny little intimate settings. He turns simple everyday elements into ominous signs as in the opening sequence in which we get extreme close-ups on a telephone which does not stop ringing until the receiver is picked up, or amplifies the humming air-conditioning or the ventilator of the ceiling light, giving it a menacing quality. For the most part, the movie takes place within the confines of the motel room, which grows increasingly claustrophobic. For its climax the room is even transformed into an exaggerated outgrowth of the characters' recreational obsessions- the walls are papered with aluminum foil and the lights are replaced by the eerie blue glow of insect repellant bulbs place resembling a gigantic bug zapper for drug users.
Similar to his approach with The Exorcist what is amazing about Friedkin’s technique is not what you see explicitly on the screen but on how uncomfortable it makes you feel. Friedkin doesn't rely on gigantic set pieces typical of bloated Hollywood budgets but relies on simple tricks to increase the audience's discomfort level. By avoiding clichéd cheap thrills Friedkin gets into the heart of what great thrillers do, which is to stay with you for days later after the credits have rolled.
The performances are feverishly astonishing. The entire cast achieves a sense of manic intensity often frightening and gripping. Ashley Judd is a powerhouse radiating both wounded vulnerability and a willingness to go to extreme places. Her final monologue is tour de force of intense manic energy, twisted logic and complete abandon in which she bares her soul as both character and actress. Michael Shannon gives an incredibly physical, deeply disturbing performance, genuinely terrifying. Harry Connick Jr provides a menacing presence and manages to maximize on a highly unlikable one-dimensional character by relying on his buff looks and easy charm.
Bug is a harrowing gripping, brilliantly acted, and superbly directed thriller. It is also at times a difficult movie to watch due to its effective oppressive atmosphere of dread. You may find yourself squirming in your seat scene after scene. It is also William Friedkin's best film since The Exorcist; a welcome return to form for a masterful auteur.
American writer/director who has struggled throughout his career to escape the legacy of two of his earliest films. Debuted in 1967 with the Sonny & Cher flick Good Times, but it was the gripping French Connection (1971) and phenomenonally popular The Exorcist (1973) that made Friedkin's name and influenced a whole decade of police and horror films. Since then, some of Friedkin's films have been pretty good (Sorcerer, the controversial Cruising, To Live and Die in L.A., Blue Chips, Bug, Killer Joe), but many more (The Guardian, Jade, Rules of Engagement) have shown little of the director's undoubtable talent.