Ashley Judd - Agnes White
Michael Shannon - Peter Evans
Harry Connick, Jr. - Jerry Goss
Lynn Collins - R.C.
Brian F. O'Byrne - Dr. Sweet
Based on the play by Tracy Letts
Year - 2007
Score - 4 Howls Outta 4
My uncle has paranoid schizophrenia. The whole family knows it but him. He doesn't think he has a mental problem. He doesn't believe that he's crazy. He believes that he sees things that aren't there, giving him this sense that he knows more than the average person. He always tells me of "these people", who have no names or no idea what they look like. But "these people" exist to mess with his head. They're everywhere, he claims. "These people" are out to get him and he's so sure of it that he believes some people in our own family are part of this conspiracy to force him into suicide. The neighbors are plotting against him. His AA group is using hidden code to talk about him. Hell, he accused my own mom because of this mess. It never stops.
So watching BUG, it kind of hit close to home in a way. Watching characters believe that the government inserted bugs in their body as a form of control is like watching my uncle drink Malt Liquor just to drown the voices out that seem to be conspiring against him. But what if this paranoia isn't a mental illness, but sort of a sixth sense? What if they're right in what they believe in and we somehow can't see it? BUG doesn't really answer that question but it does show that once you strongly believe in an idea, you may never be able to let it go.
Agnes White (Ashley Judd) is a divorced wife [her ex (Harry Connick, Jr.) just got released from prison after two years for almost killing her] who works at a lesbian bar. She also lives in a rundown motel room near the highway, has a taste for booze and drugs, and receives strange calls with just static on the line. One night after work, her friend R.C. (Lynn Collins) arrives to Agnes' home with a quirky guy named Peter Evans (Michael Shannon). R.C. is called out for an emergency, leaving Agnes and Peter to connect. Awkwardly. So awkwardly that even I felt uncomfortable. Anyway, Peter spends the night at Agnes' place just so she won't feel lonely.
The next morning, Agnes' ex-husband Jerry returns to rekindle their marriage whether she wants to or not. After meeting Peter, Jerry leaves to finish some business. Feeling really vulnerable, Agnes gets in bed with Peter and starts a really weird relationship with him. That night, Peter finds a tiny bug in bed that Agnes can't see at first. And then, things just get really strange as the bugs start taking over their lives as they're the only ones who can see or feel their bites. Are there really bugs, or are these two just plain crazy?
BUG is a weird film to review. It's not really a horror film, at least not until the last half hour. It's more of a character driven drama where, for two-thirds of the film, we learn about the characters and what makes them tick. There's a lot of slow exposition that gives us info on these people, but it's never boring and keeps your interest all the way through. And once we know these people, that's when director William Friedkin really kicks in the weirdness factor.
I honestly felt uncomfortable watching this film. It slowly builds and builds mood and tension to the point where you start feeling these bugs all over your body yourself. Most of the film takes place at one location: Agnes' motel room. And it mainly involves two people, Agnes and Peter, who have nothing in common and are so uncomfortable around each other that it makes for an unique viewing experience. Friedkin has created a claustrophobic feel for the film, which only intensifies as we learn about Peter's past and his connection to these bugs that seem to spread onto Agnes as well. It doesn't help that the whole "bug" thing is never fully explained and ends in a way that not many would expect. It only leaves us with our own idea of what's true and what's not. And believe me, using your imagination when it concerns this film is a scary thought.
What do I think? I'm not really sure. A part of me wants to believe these characters are off their rocker, yet there's a possibility that they may be right. I mean, it's possible for the government to test something like this on people right? It doesn't help when the actors are protraying these characters so close to reality that it's pretty hard to doubt what they're saying isn't true. I swear to God, Judd's and Shannon's performances were too believable. Even after I finished the film, their interactions still lingered with me. I don't really remember the last film I've seen that had that effect on me.
Ashley Judd, who I always felt was a one-note actress who did the same films over and over again [and with Morgan Freeman no less], really outdoes herself here. She's edgy. She's complicated. She's unflattering as a woman and as a person. She's what you would call a "real" human being. You really sympathize with Agnes and you feel her pain and her loneliness. While Peter is a weirdo to the nth degree, we understand why she would be attracted to him. She almost loses it towards the end where she really plays it a bit over the top, but it somehow works really well in the context of what's happening in that very bizarre scene. I knew Judd always had it in her to pull off a role like this. It's just nice to see it materialize on screen.
Michael Shannon is the real star of this film as creepy Peter. For one, he looks like a serial killer. The moment I saw the guy, I got really weird vibes from him. Plus, he's really quiet most of the time and quiet people really scare the crap out of me. You always wonder what they're thinking, and when you don't get your answer, it makes you very uncomfortable. He's such a natural in the role, which I'm sure is helped by the fact that he originated the character on stage. Hell, how much is acting and how much is it Shannon? For all I know, he IS Peter Evans. Just a really spine-tingling performance. Just fantastic because I believed every bit of him. Every single bit.
And Harry Connick, Jr. deserves some recognition for playing such a great asshole of an ex-husband, Jerry. He doesn't really do much but he's such a prick that you wish the bugs would get him too. A great performance by Connick, Jr.
And I have to applaud William Friedkin for having the guts of making a film like this in a time where gore and blood is what attracts mainstream horror fans to the theater. He doesn't rely on showing us these bugs and how they're eating Agnes' and Peter's flesh. It's all implied. It's all mental. We don't see anything but two people deteriorate in front of our eyes. The pacing of the film isn't totally consistent as it becomes quite a shock once the film really gets weird at the end, but the direction is brilliant. Just a great clustrophobic feel that makes you feel as if you're right there with these characters. This is Friedkin's artsy film I think and I believe he wanted to prove he was more than just THE FRENCH CONNECTION and especially THE EXORCIST. BUG is definitely right up with those films and he gets kudos for having the balls to direct this film.
THINGS I'M PARANOID ABOUT WHILE WATCHING THIS FILM
1. Agnes has long brown hair, lives in a motel, wears a white tank top and daisy dukes, drinks up a storm, does drugs, and speaks like white trash. Ho-lee shit...I'm watching Britney Spears' future! Ding dang, y'all!
2. Peter is pathetic to watch when he's hitting on Agnes. I think we have a contestant for VH1's THE PICK-UP ARTIST 2!
3. Jerry took his ex-wife's money. Yep, this film is The Britney Spears' Story! This is really sad...
4. If you want an easy lay, call Ashley Judd. She'll give it to you whenever you ask for it. No wonder Morgan Freeman did so many movies with her.
5. Paranoia seems to be contagious. Maybe that's why I don't talk to my uncle too often.
6. Jerry bought a TV from money working a sausage truck. I'm sure all the women in the neighborhood were satisfied with Jerry's brand of sausage.
7. Peter started swatting himself like a madman, eventually going into a seizure. I had the same reaction to MANSQUITO.
8. Peter pulled some of his teeth out. 1-800-DENTIST still works, dude!
9. A psychiatrist was smoking a crackpipe. Is he Dr. Sweet, or Dr. Feelgood? Yeah, I bet this doctor will make you feel alright...
10. Agnes is the Super Mother Bug. And I'm the Super Mother Fucker. So what?
THE FINAL HOWL
BUG is a film you won't be forgetting after its done. It totally depressed me with his bleakness and darkness, yet that was the point. The performances by Judd and Shannon are excellent and Friedkin directs a fine film here. It didn't scare me but it creeped me the hell out. I don't think I'll be able to watch this film again. I'd like to keep my sanity, thanks. But this is definitely a film you need to check out on your own. This film will definitely BUG you out.