Thursday, February 10, 2011


I don't like bugs very much. Especially when I keep imagining that my skin is crawling with them. Where I work, people come in with bed bugs all the time. The likelihood of me getting them is slim however but I still have nights when I'm trying to fall asleep and can't because I keep thinking that there are bugs! I turn on the lights, strip my sheets and examine them closely to reveal that it was just some chip crumbs from that time I was being fat and lazy and ate chips in my bed (Which is pretty much everyday).

William Friedkin of The Exorcist fame, returned in 2006 with what many assumed would be a return to the horror genre--Bug. Based on the stage play Tracy Letts, Bug made a lot of people strangely angry. Maybe it was because they were expecting some pea soup vomiting, or maybe it was because people don't do well with tooth trauma. I think mostly what happened was that people were not expecting how utterly crazy Bug would really be. But not utterly crazy in a horror film kind of way--just utterly crazy in a, keeping your distance from the screen kind of way. I have watched it tonight because people often talk about its disturbing moments. And I think it may have even been on the second "Scariest Movie Moments" (Even Scarier Movie Moments) list. Whatever kind of film you believe that it is, Bug is at least to me vastly underrated. It has a 6 on IMDB! A 6!

Ashley Judd plays Agnes White, a disheveled kind of woman with what we can only assume is a dark and depressing past. Her abusive ex-husband has recently been released from prison and she is holed up in a gross motel room for the time being. When her best friend introduces her to Peter Evans, a mysterious man who has a few strange theories--she quickly spirals into his violent delusions making things go from bad, to worse to holy shit.

If you have never seen Bug, I recommend that you read as little about the plot as you possibly can. It's one of those films where the less you know, the better. I knew going into it a general idea--or rather a general scene involving a tooth....but other than that, I really knew nothing. This seemed to be the right mind set, because I was completely blown away and taken off guard. Things seem so normal and so regular in the first half of the film. I kept wondering to myself if Peter Evans really was the crazy guy. It's like there's just this crazy twist somewhere in the middle of the film that makes you utterly horrified. Normally I would be annoyed that the shift happened so abruptly but the best part about Bug is--we don't know how abruptly it really was.We don't really have a time frame. Who knows how long they had been in that motel room together.

My favorite thing about Bug is the absence of explanation, or even the absence of "proof". The best example is when Peter says he got bit by an aphid and finds the bug to show Agnes. Agnes repeatedly says she can't see it, but after a little while, says that she does. But the thing is--we never see that bug. Just like how we never see what they are seeing through the microscope. This is one of the ways that we realize how what happened...happened.

So here's the thing. Bug although not outright disturbing in a Salo way--is still very disturbing to me. This is because it takes a very serious mental illness--Paranoid Schizophrenia and does not dress it up, or explain it away. Rather, it is an extremely blunt and explosive depiction that almost punches us in the face. Throughout the film we are consistently placed in that motel room with Agnes and Peter. We are shoved directly into their lives and directly into the delusions. Doing this even starts to make us question whether or not the bugs are real. We as the audience kind of get pushed into Agnes' frame of mind when she doesn't see the aphid. We don't really understand what is happening, or want to believe it--but some how we start trying to connect these obvious ridiculous things. We start to see things, and we start to make theories in our heads. This----is terrifying to me. It's almost like the bugs are infecting us in a way.
To be clear, I do not believe that the bugs are real and I'm pretty positive that is the honest truth. But the fact remains that people still have these crazy theories about if the bugs did exist and blah blah blah. But that's normal! We are in a way supposed to question the validity of the bugs. It's just insanely neat to me how that illness is depicted in this and how we end up sort of getting that same illness.

The film is also horrifying in that, "wow" factor. The shift that happens is unanticipated and it does happen rather quickly--but what we see in that moment of change is horrifying. When Peter lifts his shirt up for the first time, we are blown away by the severity of the situation.
He is really fucked up and the fact that Agnes is still following all this, is absolutely terrifying. The ultimate moment in holy shit however comes when Peter believes the government implanted a bug underneath his tooth.
It's probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to watch. It looks..........fucking real and I would definitely be lying if I said I didn't have to look away. That scene is completely awful.
On the performance side of things, both Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon are incredible. The last scene is one of the best acted things I have probably ever seen.
It's really like you are watching them have an out of body acting experience. They go to this whole other place that is just SO scary to me. I really started feeling scared for them as the characters. They seemed so removed and so real.

Overall, Bug is a pretty awesome film. I'm not sure why it only has a 6 on IMDB but I'm pretty sure the government may have something to do with it. It's one of those movies that I feel that I need to watch again immediately. And I did in a way. I went back and watched the very beginning because there was something I needed to see. We tend to think that Peter is the only crazy one--but you have to wonder about Agnes. How is it that she was able to latch onto his delusions so quickly?

If you go back to the beginning and really pay attention, you'll start to think about something. That something is the telephone. Some people believe that because we never see the light on the phone light up that it was never actually ringing in the first place. Personally I don't even see how one can see the light--but I do think that idea is extremely thought provoking. Perhaps all those phone calls were delusions of her own. Perhaps they symbolize the idea of her lost son. She wants someone to be on that line--but there is never anyone there. If we think about her character like this, than we realize that the shift that happens in her character, isn't so surprising after all. She has been through a lot and it makes a lot of sense if we think of her as not mentally stable as well.
Bug has many, many layers to it and it's a film that I'm going to be thinking about and talking about a lot. Not a horror movie sure--but it's certainly disturbing and definitely will be making it on the list. Plus, Harry Connick Jr. is in it.


Unknown said...

I didn't care for this movie when I saw it last year. The performances were good, but there was something about the tone of the movie in the last half that just lost me. I might have to give it a second chance sometime.

I will say, however, that the choice of never showing the bugs was the key choice in making that film. If there was so much as a single aphid visible, it would have thrown the movie right down the sewer.

Mr. Johnny Sandman said...

Glad to see more love for this film. I think I was the only one who thought it was great. Personally it's Michael Shannon who did it for me.

Eddie said...

Hi Andre, Great review. I also really liked this film. It kept me entertained all the way through, and you can't say that for many movies these days.

xkatzelmacherx said...

Great review. Fantastic film

Patrick H. Ray said...

I absolutely loved this film. For me, I think it was the excellent acting, particularly Michael Shannon is a very talented lunatic. I mean guy. He might not actually even be a lunatic in real life but anybody who plays it that well probably has some habits that men in white coats would find just adorable.

Kinda' got sidetracked there.

In addition to stellar performances by Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon, I appreciated the uncertainty in everything. Was she getting phone calls, were there bugs...when you see how easily it was for both main characters to go...I think the clinical term is bat-shit-crazy...everything has to be questioned. The fact that this could have been done so badly and yet wasn't, that was a lovely risk the writer took and the director nailed it.

The tooth extraction scene and follow up dialogue was brilliantly disturbing in an "I wish I'd never seen that" kinda' way. That and of course, the very ending. Twisted and brilliant, two great tastes that taste great together.

I really dig your review style. It's loose and casual and yet has some great insights. Your sense of humor is fun, too. Well done on all fronts.

as a last note: There towards the end, I'd have to agree with Ashley's character. She was the Supreme Mother Bug.