Directed by William Friedkin
Starring Ashely Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick Jr.
Review by Jordan
They’re watching us
Bug is one of the best movies you’ll see that at times you can’t possibly watch.
A horror movie where the viewer is terrified almost solely for the desperate duo who fall victim to its claustrophobic scenario, wishing them an escape from the mounting paranoia that threatens to eat them alive, it takes its cues from a Tracy Letts play and honours that single-setting structure to craft an environment of dread that continuously morphs into an inescapable contamination zone.
William Friedkin, a maverick director whose best films had been released some 30 years prior, revels in the thrill of the situation, stripping back irrelevant padding and exposition to produce clear evidence that there is an art to maintaining suspense. For all the film’s technical and structural successes though, it would fall down if not for the dedication of Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon, who inhabit their vulnerable characters with reckless performances, opening themselves up for criticism but denying the thought through sheer, undeniable quality. They play Agnes and Peter respectively, one a defeated waitress living in a stained room in a rundown hotel in fear of her abusive ex (recently released from prison) and the other a mysterious drifter whose hallucinatory mind could easily be mistaken for eccentricity. They both share a common trait: sadness, and after early reluctance realise they need each other. Their desperateness morphs into a strange kind of contentment, but then the bugs arrive, and the outside world moves to tear them apart.
Judd is commonly recognised as a veteran of impressive ‘90’s crime films (A Time to Kill, Kiss the Girls, Double Jeopardy among others), but here she is mesmerizing to watch as she delivers the monologues and characteristics required to trace her willful unraveling. Her Agnes is both repulsive and alluring; too discontent to bother addressing the first yet also aware of the second, with her attractiveness purposely shielded by scars both physical and emotional. Shannon introduces a jittery paranoid persona that at first appears alien, but the more he accentuates Peter’s condition, the more apparent the infectious nature of the workings of his mind becomes. Each performance is reliant on the commitment of the other, and as a result both are as incendiary as the plot requires.
It’s devastating baring witness as uncontrollable urges (or illusive bugs) violently seek to destroy the last vestiges of normality, causing physical itches and the resurfacing of past pains. First they appear in isolation, then a hoard and finally every inch of the desolate room is dedicated to their eradication, which will first involve understanding the roles of the drone, the queen and the conspirators.