Bug is the new thriller from director William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection). It's based on a play by Tracy Letts, who also wrote the screenplay adaptation.
The cast includes Ashley Judd as Agnes, a depressed bartender living a meek existence in a dingy hotel. A friend introduces her to Peter (Michael Shannon), a quiet, sweet-natured stranger whom Agnes immediately falls for. She's haunted by her abusive ex-con former flame, Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr.), who was only recently released from prison. As her relationship with Peter escalates, Peter finds himself covered in bug bites. He shows Agnes the micro-sized irritants, but she doesn't even see them herself at first. As the story builds, Peter becomes obsessed with these Bugs, waging a war that takes over his and Agnes' life.
If you've already seen the trailer for Bug, you're probably expecting a pretty typical horror movie that includes the requisite level of gore. In reality, Bug is something entirely different. It's less Saw or Hostel and more early 80's David Cronenberg or David Lynch. It gets inside your head and disturbs you. It's trippy, weird and intoxicating. I went into Bug expecting to be bored by the standard slasher fare, but instead found myself completely engaged and oftentimes sitting on the edge of my seat.
Taken from the play, the majority of Bug takes place in a single motel room and there aren't many characters. But you never feel bored by this scenario. Letts' script is taut and smart.
Michael Shannon, who reprises his role from the stage show, delivers a terrific performance. He's had a lot of experience playing Peter, but he still manages to thrust himself into the role, never wavering in his character's intense conviction.
Ashley Judd's character Agnes is essentially little more than dumb white trash. Judd lends her best performance in, well, ever. I've never been a fan of her work, but here she delves deeper than I've ever seen. You feel for Agnes as she descends deeper and deeper into Peter's (potential) madness. You want to caution her, but her desperation for affection takes her down a road from which she can't really turn back.
Connick, Jr. is also very good in a small role as Jerry. He's an abusive character, but Connick offers more here than the traditional stereotype of such a character. Known more as a singer than star of the screen, Connick has worked hard and earned legitimacy as an actor.
For Friedkin, this is the best thing he's done since the criminally underrated To Live and Die in L.A. more than two decades ago. He uses the claustrophobic atmosphere to his utmost advantage and he gets strong performances from his cast across the board. For an inconsistent director who has sometimes yielded towards painfully over the top, here he is at his restrained best.
Bug is a wide release from LionsGate, which really surprises me. Honestly, I can't imagine audiences outside of the art house variety being too thrilled to find that they've bought a ticket to a study in paranoid delusion rather than a scary gore-fest. Some may even walk out.
Call me a film geek, but I still loved it. Bug has scares of a different variety and there is certainly some blood courtesy of one cringe-inducing lesson in personal dentistry. Still this is more of a thinking man's piece. Friedkin doesn't spell it out, instead leaving audiences a series of questions they must answer for themselves. Is Peter telling the truth? Is Agnes simply so desperate for affection that she'll believe anything he tells her? And, first and foremost, are there even any bugs at all?
Although Bug wasn't what I went in expecting, I found it to be a refreshingly different kind of movie. It's well made, well acted and smart. For those willing to give Bug a chance, I think they might just find it to be a rewarding trip to the cinema.