Directed by William Friedkin
Starring Ashely Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick Jr.
Review by Jordan
They’re watching us
Bug is one of the best movies you’ll see that at times you can’t possibly watch.
A horror movie where the viewer is terrified almost solely for the desperate duo who fall victim to its claustrophobic scenario, wishing them an escape from the mounting paranoia that threatens to eat them alive, it takes its cues from a Tracy Letts play and honours that single-setting structure to craft an environment of dread that continuously morphs into an inescapable contamination zone.
William Friedkin, a maverick director whose best films had been released some 30 years prior, revels in the thrill of the situation, stripping back irrelevant padding and exposition to produce clear evidence that there is an art to maintaining suspense. For all the film’s technical and structural successes though, it would fall down if not for the dedication of Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon, who inhabit their vulnerable characters with reckless performances, opening themselves up for criticism but denying the thought through sheer, undeniable quality. They play Agnes and Peter respectively, one a defeated waitress living in a stained room in a rundown hotel in fear of her abusive ex (recently released from prison) and the other a mysterious drifter whose hallucinatory mind could easily be mistaken for eccentricity. They both share a common trait: sadness, and after early reluctance realise they need each other. Their desperateness morphs into a strange kind of contentment, but then the bugs arrive, and the outside world moves to tear them apart.
Judd is commonly recognised as a veteran of impressive ‘90’s crime films (A Time to Kill, Kiss the Girls, Double Jeopardy among others), but here she is mesmerizing to watch as she delivers the monologues and characteristics required to trace her willful unraveling. Her Agnes is both repulsive and alluring; too discontent to bother addressing the first yet also aware of the second, with her attractiveness purposely shielded by scars both physical and emotional. Shannon introduces a jittery paranoid persona that at first appears alien, but the more he accentuates Peter’s condition, the more apparent the infectious nature of the workings of his mind becomes. Each performance is reliant on the commitment of the other, and as a result both are as incendiary as the plot requires.
It’s devastating baring witness as uncontrollable urges (or illusive bugs) violently seek to destroy the last vestiges of normality, causing physical itches and the resurfacing of past pains. First they appear in isolation, then a hoard and finally every inch of the desolate room is dedicated to their eradication, which will first involve understanding the roles of the drone, the queen and the conspirators.
You can’t watch this without feeling itchy all over.
Nope. And then the itches make you suitably paranoid!
Judd and Shannon deserved Oscar nominations for their performances in this one I’ve always thought
I think you’re right. Judd in particular is just so raw and realistic, it’s not right that more people haven’t seen this.
Great reminder of a true measterpiece that desguises itself under a low budget and a then unfamiliar face in Michael Shannon (…now he ”WILL FIND HIM! [x3]”). This movie captivated me when watching it at the age of 16, feeling great sympanthy for these characters, as I was dissolving into an ugly, rotten corpse that I have now fully turned into; suffering from a rather similar mental disease that’s eating me -thankfully- at a lower pace than these un/fortunate characters…
Friedkin avoided exposition and tricks giving an unknowing me a raw look at my future via means of art. Cinema, in particular. Thank you, William F. for offering me such gratuitus viewing experiences with Bug, The Exorcist and the ”forbidden” one with Al Pacino. You are so ahead!
PS. sorry for being a bit raw, unapologetic and… ‘sick’, when writing this comment. It is one of the most heartfelt comments I have ever posted. Thank You.
Glad this film struck a chord with you mate. Positive memories of a film can often be based around the time that we watched it.
You described it best as terrifying. I remember it staying with me long after the credits had rolled. I think it needs a rewatch as when I first saw it I focuses too much on the creepy bug elements rather than the psychological performance.
Yeah if you watch it again just focus on Judd, and of course Shannon. Heck, even Harry connick jr gives an above par performance.
Aw man, this has been up and down my ‘to watch’ stack forever – hardly read a bad thing about it, but feel like I’d need to be in a particular mood to watch something like this. Great write-up, I’ll hopefully get round to watching it soon! ANYTHING Friedkin touches is surely worth checking out.
Yeah whenever you’re in the mood for a horror or thriller get onto it asap! Won’t be disappointed I’m sure.
Until recently I’d completely forgotten Michael Shannon was in this. The man can do no wrong.
Mate how good is he ha, love him in Boardwalk Empire, I am trying to convince Jordan to get into that series.
I just started Boardwalk Empire. Such a good show. Did you ever watch Shannon in ‘The Iceman’? He was brilliant in that, despite some shaky writing and lackluster direction. Liotta was damn good too in it.
Oh nice mate, you are in for a treat, the quality drops a little in season 4 and 5 but without a doubt season 2 and 3 are some of the best seasons of any show I’ve seen and Shannon’s character is just great.
I did see the Iceman, I must admit I did not like that film at all but Shannon was ace as usual.
Nice review Jordan. Since this is all about the cast, it makes a difference that they’re all very good. Which they are. Even if the movie itself does start to spiral out of complete control.
The ending could certainly be improved, but I’m more than happy by what we get here.
This film is etched in the memory of both my wife and myself. Such a brutal film played so well by the cast. Michael Shannon is perfectly cast (as he is in most films) and Judd is something else entirely from other films she has been in. Shannon was in another film focussing on mental health issues with Take Shelter, another superb bit of film making.
Right you are. Shannon doesn’t often choose bad roles.
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