Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Like many a horror geek, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist is on my list of all-time best horror movies. And while The Guardian (the 1990 horror movie with Jenny Seagrove, not the recent Costner-Kutcher starrer) was a passable effort, it certainly wasn’t an Exorcist. Then there was Friedkin’s collaboration with Joe Eszterhas on the erotic thriller Jade, which was a big let-down (though it was cool hearing Loreena McKennitt during a key scene).
Despite all that post-Exorcist disappointment though, I was nonetheless looking forward to Bug, initially knowing nothing beyond that it was directed by Friedkin, had Ashley Judd and Harry Connick, Jr. in the cast, and boasted a kick-a$$ one-sheet.
Now that I’ve seen it, I can safely say it’s a nasty little number by Friedkin, and though I did find it a disturbingly riveting piece of cinema, it also clearly isn’t for everyone.

The film’s basic set-up is standard: lonely woman (Judd as waitress Agnes White) meets a mysterious drifter (Michael Shannon as Peter Evans), who enters her life, with tumultuous results. Where Friedkin and screenwriter Tracy Letts take Bug though, is hardly “standard.” I can’t really say any more than that, lest I spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it.
I can say that Friedkin takes Letts’ script (adapted from his own critically-acclaimed and Obie Award-winning play), and with a controlled and confident hand, presents us with a taut exercise in conspiracy and paranoia, a chilling portrait of love and personal disintegration with fantastic performances by Judd and Shannon.
Judd’s always struck me as not just a pretty face, but as a capable and talented actress as well. Here, she takes one of those terribly unglamorous roles (working class, accent, drug use, no make up) and embraces the character, inhabiting Agnes White.
Shannon, who starred in Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky and Alex Turner‘s Dead Birds, does no less. His Peter is one of those tightly wound, internal performances, like Heath Ledger’s Ennis Del Mar from Brokeback Mountain; the sort of character you can sense has vast, uncharted depths beyond the nondescript façade, depths that we see begin to leak out as the film gradually unspools. (Of course, Shannon already nailed the part of Peter in London and off-Broadway, and though that may give him an unfair advantage, let’s not hold that against him.)

For all my praise though, given what Bug is ultimately about, and the manner in which the narrative unfolds, this is definitely the sort of film that will leave some with the impression that nothing’s happening beyond two people yakking in a motel room.
But there is something here, beneath the celluloid skin. Along with David Lynch’s Inland Empire, Bug is one of the most unsettling films I’ve seen in recent memory, the sort of cinematic experience that leaves a residue.
If you’re adventurous with your cinema, or are a Friedkin or Judd fan, or want to see a fearless performance by Shannon, then you may well want to check this out.
If however you like your movies safe and Hollywood-engineered, then Bug may not be the film for you.

(Bug OS courtesy of; DVD cover art courtesy of; images courtesy of Lionsgate and

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