Directed by: William Friedkin
Premise: Agnes (Ashley Judd), a lonely woman, hooks up with Peter (Michael Shannon), an Iraq war veteran. After a few days of cohabitating in a motel, Peter confesses that he is carrying bugs designed by the government. As the line between reality and delusion becomes indistinguishable, Agnes begins to share Peter’s belief.
What Works: Bug is a great example of subverting genre and rationality. The picture expertly melts the line between reality and fantasy, carefully staging the journey of the characters, allowing them to go from a normal, if dysfunctional life and into a world of paranoia and madness. The filmmakers understand the subjective nature of reality, especially as it is created in film, and Bug plays the audience’s expectations against them in a smart way. Instead of letting the audience in on the truth right away or pulling the rug out from under them at the very end (the way M. Night Shyamalan often does), Bug continually develops the mystery, offering evidence and counter evidence, and funneling the arguments for the existence of the bugs through the characters. Bug features some great performances by its two lead actors and the film goes through pains to develop them. Both Judd and Shannon are great at selling the insanity of the story and they do it by linking the possible infestation and the character’s belief in it to the burgeoning love story. As the characters deepen in their paranoia, the bond between these two lonely people gets stronger and this gives the slide into their belief some weight and psychological depth. By the time the film reaches its tin foil climax, Bug has successfully confused reality and fantasy to a point that is disturbing both emotionally and intellectually.
What Doesn’t: Bug defies genre conventions and people expecting a typical insect infestation film like Arachnophobia may be disappointed by Bug’s attention to character and lack of flesh eating creepy crawlies. It’s to the film’s credit that it takes the unconventional route, but audiences ought to be aware of what they are getting into.
DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes.
Bottom Line: Bug is a terrific film and may be director William Friedkin’s best work since The Exorcist. It is highly disturbing but in exactly the way that a horror film ought to be.
Episode: #167 (November 17, 2007)