The film is a disturbing look at total madness and paranoia, a look at how the disillusioned reason with themselves until they are driven to total and utter insanity. The final thirty minutes of this film are truly captivating, I was so engrossed by the intensity that it had ended before I knew it. It's rare that a film set in such a confined environment can be so gripping. One problem I had with the film was the rate at which Agnes is indoctrinated by Peter; it's slightly implausible considering that she seems to be a rational, measured woman.
The performances are excellent. William Friedkin's trademark ease- inducing presence shows in the lead actors' total unhinged lunacy in the final act; it takes a special working environment to unwind so completely.
It's likely to polarise audiences, but I found it a powerful, taut film that compels and disgusts you.
Agnes (Ashley Judd) is lonely woman who moves into a rundown motel to escape her husband Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr) who has just been released from prison. She is introduced to eccentric drifter Peter (Michael Shannon) who seems to be hiding something and is prone to the occasional conspiracy theory. Not before long, things start to unravel as bug infestation takes over the motel room.
Based on the play by Tracy Letts and set largely within the confines of a remote rustic motel room, it's easy to see why this material would have played well on stage. It's claustrophobic atmosphere is captured straight away by Friedkin and his unsteady camerawork lends a perfect sense of unease within the characters and their confined space. It begins slowly building with a gradual pace but with the arrival of an on-edge and abusive Connick, Jr and an unsettling and creepy turn from Shannon, the pace escalates to one of unbearable and visceral intensity. This is less of a gory horror and more of a psychological, character driven chamber piece that benefits from three brilliant performances. Unsurprisingly, it's Shannon who once again stands out. He's an actor that possesses a natural intensity and this is a role that's fully suited to his abilities. In fact, it might even be Shannon's finest performance and that's saying something. However, it could also be seen as to why Shannon has now, seemingly, been type-cast as a loon-ball. Particularly impressive is Friedkin's handling of the material though and how it grips with a plot that's entirely unexpected while exploring the heavy issue of psychological trauma, emotional dependency and delusional paranoid schizophrenia. It's only towards the end that the film starts to show it's faults. It does contain a lot of ambiguity but it's rushed and plot holes do become apparent at this time. So much so that a couple of characters appear and disappear without explanation.
This will not appeal to everyone and those expecting an out-and-out horror will probably be disappointed but if you enjoy your horrors in a more cerebral, psychological fashion then this certainly delivers.
"Bug" gives Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd lots of occasion to play crazy - and they rise to the occasion. Judd is a surprise, she may not have Award-winning chops, but she proves with "Bug" that she can elevate her acting above popcorn-flick, tough-ish damsel-in-distress roles.
But "Bug" belongs to William Friedkin who keeps a lot of the intimacy of the play to capture these two souls in their descent into madness. "Bug" doesn't entirely work, it's probably a bit too weird keeping audiences at arm's length - but Friedkin directs with abandon and delivers a film you probably won't ever see the likes of in a long while.
By that I mean the characters (there are really only four with any major screen time) are well developed, with the two leads getting the opportunity to REALLY show some range. And it is the two leads (Judd & Shannon) that really make this film work as well as it does. Which (for me) was good, solid, but not GREAT.
The film succeeds in creating a creepy, claustrophobic, manic environment. However there are moments when the environment (and the acting) seems like "too much" and starts to feel a bit over done...almost cartoonish.
There are a few "gore scenes" that felt sort of tagged on to make it more sellable as a "horror" film. But I feel like the story is intense enough that these scenes ended up cheapening it more then enhancing it.
Michael Shannon (as with Revolutionary Road) "knocks it out of the park". Few people can pull off "obsessive compulsive nut job" like Shannon. Judd is impressive as well, but not as consistently as Shannon.
All in all it is a pretty solid psychological thriller.
To me, the story is more about a lonely loner type woman who seems somehow a step out of sorts with those around her. She plays kissy face with a fellow barmaid (obviously a dyke), does coke with her and her aquaintance, yet doesn't want to accompany her to a party. She is obviously bi, and yet the hints are there that it's more a statement about lonliness and trying to connect than any commitment to any kind of sexuality, other than her innate need to be dominated. Her lonliness is amplified and the signals are subtle; she seems tethered to an abusive relationship with a con who say he loves her, but it's obvious that he only loves that he can control her. You begin to wonder about her, if all the phone calls at the beginning of the film, where there is no-one there when she answers, are legit.
When the story comes out about her child's dissapearance you begin to see the cracks in her facade and that her little tough girl routine is, as the song cleverly plays in the backround, just a masquerade.
This makes the absurdity that follows at least somewhat plausable, and it is a revelation that she is just as unhinged in her own way as the lunatic who believes that his body is infested with government planted bugs.
There are times when it is obvious that this screenplay was developed out of a play, but for the most part it remains just quirky enough to hold your interest; at least until the final payoff, which is a major letdown which, I suppose, is where madness eventually leads to, but it still comes off as a contrived bit of theatre.
In earnest, this is not a movie for everyone. It is probing, but emotionally exhausting and creepy in an entirely different way. Different is the key word here - Bug's great BECAUSE it's different. It doesn't take a traditional approach to horror. It puts these two people, especially poor miserable Ashley Judd, through hell and does so in the most pragmatic way possible. One scene involving a tooth, for instance, is filmed with long and deliberate shots, completely unsympathetic of the pain that both of these characters are going through. It is one of the most horrifying and powerful scenes that I've sat through in a very long time.
Bug is not a perfect movie. The ending is rushed and it could have used a more radical adaptation of the play from whence it came. More later.