Bug Review

BUG (2006)

Starring: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick, Jr
Directed by: William Friedkin

One of the best experiences I had as a kid was The Exorcist. Hands down. That movie scared the ass outta me not because someone was trying to guilt trip me into believing a book of stories, but because it was just so damned awesome (seriously, fuck you, Mel Gibson...). Those feelings, of course, carried over when the psychological horror thriller known as Bug was originally announced and, honestly, aside from an episode of Tales from the Crypt, I've not really seen anything else by William Friedkin, so this was an opportunity to see just how well this would hold up in comparison to childhood memories.

The Premise

Bug is about an unstable motel dweller named Agnes White (Ashley Judd) who meets and forms a relationship with an ex-military drifter, Peter Evans (Michael Shannon). As their relationship quickly builds, so do their anxieties as Agnes's abusive ex, Jerry Goss (Harry Connick, Jr) shows up fresh from lockdown, just before they realize their room is rapidly becoming infested with tiny blood-leeching bugs.

The First Stitches

The film begins at a relatively slow, but unstable pace. Our heroine, Agnes, is receiving phone call after phone call after phone call from an unknown source which she immediately assumes is her abusive ex, Jerry. More awkwardness comes about soon after when she temporarily ditches her motel room homestead for a quick trip to the super market.

The hell could she be staring at like thi--


*ahem* After the hypnotic effect of the ever-mesmerizing red onions wears off, the movie takes a more social route as Agnes meets up with her friend, Schwing, I mean R.C. (played by Lynn Collins) who subsequently introduces her to the film's hero, Peter. After R.C.'s abrupt departure from the motel, the two begin to mingle, learning more about each other. Agnes relates she's really not much of a party-hound, Peter relates he picks up on things "not apparent". He even shows her that if she blinks just right, she could also see the little people in the painting on her wall. At this point the mind-fuckery begins to take a bit of an upturn as they begin to search the domicile for a rogue cricket (read "smoke alarm") that has been noising the place up for a few minutes. The Magic 8-Ball knows just how to deal with that. It also knows why this scene is significant.

But it ain't sayin' nothing just yet...

Anyway, after leaving for a little while, Peter returns with a nice little toothache in tow (this is significant a little later in the movie). The morning brings a little more comfort, though, as Agnes wakes to the sound of a shower running and the smell of hot, fresh java brewing in the kitchen. This glimmer of good fortune soon turns to mush when she finds the person who has gotten her morning off to such a sweet scented start isn't Peter, but someone from her past with a few questions that need to be answered. Guess who...

Mending the Seams

Plot: The overall plot to Bug is relatively enjoyable when you initially detach yourself from the title and view it as a whole. The story is full of many cues and clues that things just aren't right, and I'm not even talking about the drugs (that shit's bad enough as it is...). The only real downfall is that some of these cues are easily missed if you haven't been paying attention to the subtly laid backgrounds. Notice the helicopter or the cricket in the very beginning? Simple stuff like that seems negligible at first, but upon re-watching, it slaps you in the face with the white glove of significance.

All in all, though, the pros tend to outweigh the cons in relation to this movie's pacing and content. Sometimes it feels over the top in a way that makes no sense, but when you have a movie that involves severe mental illnesses, conspiracy theories and and a plot twist that would make M. Night a bit jealous, it all comes kinda together on its own. The last 20-30 minutes of the movie alone will make you question the validity of Peter's tale, as well as at what point Agnes had truly cracked. There truly is a lot more than meets the eye here.

Characters: To say I liked the different personalities in this movie would be an understatement. From Agnes's desperate, beaten and downtrodden demeanor to Jerry's overbearing "love", this movie presents a nice troupe of generally fucked up people with some fucked up problems. On the specific actor side, Michael Shannon truly sells "psycho" as Peter quickly ramps up the "bat shit crazy" about halfway through the movie or so. I was also extremely impressed by Harry Connick Jr., mainly because I don't really watch any of his movies, so I didn't quite know what I was in store for. As far as I can tell, the guy does a pretty sweet job of playing an abusive prick..almost as well as he puts on a live performance.

Ashley Judd's Agnes White was a bit eerie in her demented submissiveness. As her mind melds more and more with Peter's, she drops farther from reality into a deeper spiral of desperation and sadness. And while she seems to be a bit too willing to go along for the ride, you have to keep in consideration that this is a woman who is hurting and suffering in a way many couldn't fathom. 

Setting/Atmosphere: The general motel setting of the movie was definitely a compliment to the story. The relative isolation is symbolic in that while there are people around and Agnes has an apparent friend in R.C., she's still swimming in a sea of loneliness and desperation, all while being haunted by a past trauma that she could never possibly hope to get over.

The motel room itself felt as if it represented the inner workings of her mind; initially, it's cluttered, but functional. Nothing really stands out, but there's also nothing really there. As the movie progresses and they begin taking measures to try to fight off the buggy "infestation", the room seems to represent her mind trying harder and harder to see what's not there; to believe the bugs are real. Occasionally Peter is left alone roaming around inside, pumping more bug spray (read: fueling the delusion), hanging more fly traps and bug zappers. Personally, I think he should have just gotten something like this and been done with it. All that mess...

Special Effects: And speaking of messes, I will have to say this movie had pretty good effects. Most notably for me was probably the tooth scene that was mentioned before. Prior to the unnecessary metal session (noted below), this scene was probably the most cringe-worthy of them all. Michael Shannon also really portrays the pain and anguish well in this scene. And on that note, as Peter and Agnes get worse into their condition, their outward appearance is rapidly reflected by a growing number of sores and legions that begin to appear all over their body. I think I started itching a little bit just watching them...

Music/Audio: I don't have many gripes about the audio quality of Bug. Overall, the music seemed to fit the scenario, aside from the interlude after the tooth scene. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy my heavy metal, but that one moment just felt so out of place for the tone of this movie. I didn't really have a serious problem with anything else and though I did mention that some of the audio cues were easy to miss, I don't find it so much of an issue considering this movie is definitely worth watching more than once anyway.

The Binding Stitch

One major thing to realize about Bug is it's a movie whose title is essentially a misnomer/red herring that's also a sort of double entendre. In the end, though, it goes from the pretense of being an insect horror to a much deeper, slightly richer, cerebral experience that is worth the time to view. I would personally recommend this movie for any fans of methodical, but extremely "out there" thrillers.

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