Film review by: Witney Seibold
I saw William Friedkin’s new film “Bug” yesterday at 2:30 pm. At 4:30 pm, when the film broke, I was deathly afraid to talk to other people. At 6:30, I was still a little unnerved. Today, the following day, I realize I have seen an incredible, and incredibly horrifying, piece of film. Friedkin, a reliable
Hollywood veteran (despite some clunkers like “Jade” and upper-class horror freakout de bourgeoisie “The Guardian”) is in fine form directing this adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play.
Ashley Judd plays Agnes, a woman living in a motel almost literally in the middle of nowhere. She spends her days bumming about her tiny room, growling at the ringing telephone, and smoking cigarettes. About ten years ago, her only child was kidnapped, and she has given up hope of ever finding him again. At nights, she works as a waitress in a lesbian bar, and chats with her only friend in the world RC (Lynn Collins, the comely redhead in “The Merchant of Venice” and the Suicide Blonde in “The Number 23”). Her abusive ex-husband Goss (Harry Connick, Jr.) is newly out of prison, and has every intention of moving back in with Agnes and continuing his bullying. One night, RC introduces Agnes to Peter (Michael Shannon), a stoic and good-looking stranger.
Agnes and Peter have a strange and instant regard. It’s not romantic, or even friendly, necessarily. But both of them do seem to find in the other a kindred spirit. Shortly after the two of them sleep together for the first time, Peter begins finding aphids in the bedsheets. Biting aphids. Almost microscopic aphids. Where did the aphids come from? Peter begins to explain that he was part of a horrible army experiment, and the bugs are coming out of egg sacs implanted under his skin.
It’s not long before the interior of the motel room is coated with aluminum foil, Peter and Agnes are looking through microscopes at the aphids, and are digging the egg sacs out from under their skin with needles.
Yes, Peter is delusional. Hell, he’s out-and-out batshit insane. Everyone in the audience sees this, and all the characters see this. Agnes, however, seems to find comfort in Peter’s ability to make sense of the world through his raving. Agnes, a sad, tortured, and very very lonely soul, finally has found something to talk about, something to do, and someone to do it with. She doesn’t merely entertain Peter’s conspiracy theories, but, in an odd way, becomes infected by them. In a final ranting monologue, Agnes seems to have finally made sense of her life as well.
“Bug” is a fascinating and horrifying portrait of willfully unmooring one’s self in the name of comfort and companionship. Agnes would rather be mad than lonely, would rather live in a constant state of organized conspiratorial paranoia than workaday abusive social sadness. Friedkin has said that when he saw the play a few years ago, he new immediately that he wanted to adapt it for film. He got the original playwright to right up a screenplay, and he directed it with passion, and panache. I feel that few directors could have made a film which largely takes place in one room, and only has a cast of about five, really come to disturbing life the way Friedkin has done.
Ashley Judd gives one of the best performances of her career in “Bug.” We see her jaded waitress clearly, we see her raving madwoman in hyperreality, and we understand the need she has to go down the paths she does. By the time she’s laughing and pumping her fists at the conspiratorial bugs, covered in self-inflicted wounds and totally convinced what she’s saying is true, we can almost feel what it is to be mad.
This film will probably disappoint a lot of audiences. One young man in my theater said, very loudly, as he was exiting, “let’s track down and beat up that guy who said this movie was good.” It’s being billed as a “thriller.” It’s not going to have the chases and action you want, thrillerboys. It’s going to have something much slower, much deeper, and much more terrifying. It will contain the state of mind of someone you never wanted to know.