- Ashley Judd as Agnes White
- Michael Shannon as Peter Evans
- Harry Connick Jr as Jerry
A psychological horror that’s more about the ravages of loneliness and the persuasive yet damaging delusions to escape that feeling, is rendered unnervingly by William Friedkin in Bug. Scripted by Tracy Letts from his own play, Bug comes to frightening and intense life under the direction of, and aided by two astonishing performances from Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon.
Agnes White is a lonely and haunted young woman who resides in a battered old motel in Oklahoma. Having been terrified by her now released ex Jerry( who keeps cold calling her) and her son disappearing ten years ago, life hasn’t been easy for her. In between working at a local bar, Agnes gets drunk and does drugs with her only real friend to ease the pain. One night, she is introduced to a mysterious man named Peter Evans. He is a little bit awkward but well spoken and pleasant enough towards Agnes. Slowly, the beaten down woman starts to find a certain companionship with this fellow loner. It’s when Peter is seemingly bitten by a bug that his instability comes out, with him talking of time he spent in the army and how he’s being hunted for experimental purposes. At first, Agnes doesn’t know what to make of Peter and his conspiracy stories, but things take a turn quickly. Having been worn down so much and aching for connection that leaves her too open to suggestion, Agnes soon starts to gel with Peter’s delusional theories of a bug infestation in the motel room. Having Jerry lurking around does nothing to help Agnes and how Peter’s imaginings take hold of her. Peter’s frenzied behaviour and ramblings are enough to convince Agnes of something terrible and paranoid. Sealing themselves inside the crummy motel room away from everyone, insanity breeds and the varied delusions of bugs and conspiracy quickly overtake Agnes and Peter completely.
William Friedkin delves deep into the troubled psyche of the protagonists with his cinematic flair illuminating turmoil and eventual downward spiral. that will make your skin crawl and unsettle your mind as it throws you headlong into delusion and isolation that has damaging effects on Agnes, as created by paranoid Peter. Friedkin is a man who knows how to use a camera for maximum impact; often employing gliding motions before cutting to hand-held restlessness as the story cranks up. Armed with a script by its original creator, the encased and isolated aura of a play is successfully kept but as a string to the film’s bow rather than a weakness. The building atmosphere provided by both direction and screenplay is riveting in slowly pacing events, then unearthing with quick succession the obsessive and troubling path to insanity encountered by the characters. Within Bug, Agnes and Peter feed of the others anxieties and paranoid minds, further slipping away from any form of understanding reality. The thematic value of loneliness and desperation is brought out as something that influences the eventual horror in a most effective manner. Part of this is best envisioned in the fact that Bug largely takes place in one setting; the run-down motel room that has seen better days. Even when some light comes in, it’s a setting that takes on a creepy tone as sanity wanes and the cinematography captures some moody contrasts in colour with harsh, grimy efficiency. Now Bug does get a little too abstract in some parts, but the sheer volume of psychological content and claustrophobic mania of it cover up these cracks to produce a quite startling and horrifying movie. Bug reminds us that all the best and most terrifying horror comes from the mind and suggestion, insuring you won’t be able to quite forget this film after viewing. A sparse musical score brings more attention to the alarming content, yet knows when to pitch in for some doom-laded menace.
I’ve always thought Ashley Judd is a good actress, who for whatever reason, seems to be in movies that are somewhat generic, though her talent largely shines through. Here however, she’s got a role that really shows off her abilities with dramatic full force and allows her to shine. Capturing the pensive sadness of Agnes, who seems resigned and wounded by a terrible life, Judd slowly becomes more and more unstrung as her need for company in turn sends her into insanity. With gutsy anguish and feverish unpredictability, the pitiful and in many ways doomed Agnes is fantastically played by the marvellous Ashley Judd in what is probably her finest performance. Michael Shannon has a naturally intense demeanor to him that is largely from his steely eyes and tough jaw. Even when still and not seeming off kilter, he successfully exudes a sense of restlessness that will soon worryingly combust. These traits, along with a palpable sadness, are wonderfully and frighteningly put on display in Bug. Starting out playing Peter as a little awkward and strange, once the paranoia aspect hots up, Shannon lets loose and his frenzied tics and raw energy come out with spectacular results. It’s safe to say, Shannon’s unsettling and manic performance is not one to forget as he’s so scarily effective in the part. Both of the main stars share a warped and startling closeness that is remarkably intense and worrying. One can imagine that both Judd and Shannon must have been exhausted upon filming completion, given the emotional distress and frenzy they both had to play. Harry Connick Jr provides a beefed up and hair-trigger temper as the convict ex of Agnes, whose appearance disturbs her but is nothing compared to what transpires with Peter.
An an uncomfortable and disquieting horror that drags out the dark recesses of the mind and presents them with skin-crawling assurance, Bug is a movie not for everyone. But for those willing to watch a claustrophobic examination of paranoid delusion and alarming co-dependency(acted with striking intensity) that turns to mania , Bug will be well worth checking out. Just be warned, you won’t be able to shake Bug for some time, which is to give credit to the sheer impact of it all.