Don't let anybody tell you different. If you only go see one film this weekend then skip Pirates 3 (which I liked a bunch) and treat yourself to the best horror film in a long long time. Complex, creepy as anything in recent memory this movie will not only get under your skin but into your head. Prepare yourself for the feelings only great horror films inspire; fear, repulsion and even empathy. At last a horror film with characters you care about.
Part horror film, part deft character study and part exercise in empathy, Bug is one of my favorite films this year. It affected me deeply and sidestepped a lot of flaws that should have thrown its delicate balance of horror, suspense and drama into cinematic freefall. Instead great performances, a script confident of what it has to say and some of the most disturbing imagery and strong direction to hit the American horror scene in years make this not only an awards contender but more importantly a reminder that horror is not a word synonymous with other words like remake and forgettable.
To be sure William Friedkin has had his share of flops in between masterpieces like The French Connection, The Exorcist and To Live And Die In L.A. but this finds him in that rare form that has made fans continue to anticipate something special when they hear he's involved with a project. Here he's adapting a play by Chicago playwright and well known actor Tracy Letts. This is Letts first produced screenplay and he's done a masterful job of providing Friedkin the raw material to build a dynamic film.
Agnes, a coked out inhabitant of a cheap highway motel finds herself haunted by a tragic past that includes an abusive ex-husband unexpectedly released from prison. When a friend brings a drifter by her apartment to the normally reclusive Agnes finds herself drawn to him despite his quirky demeanor. Named Peter, the man awakens one night claiming to have been bitten by a nearly invisible bug. As the threat of violence around them grows the bug problem increases in intensity if not visibility.
Let me say this. I read a capsule review of Bug in the Chicago Red Eye today that made me downright angry. It was short and to the point claiming that Ashley Judd's portrayal of the Agnes didn't do anything except render the character more annoying with each minute and thus rendered the film irritating rather than entertaining. My response? To who ever wrote that, “Get a freaking life!” I've known dozens of Agnes' over the years, people sinking into themselves via drug use, building their guilt and bitterness into a shelter for shattered psyches, often damaged most deeply by the very folks charged with nurturing and caring for them. Judd's brave risky performance is dead on, absolutely dead on and if you don't get it check your ability to empathize via cinema vs. your childish need to be entertained (read that distracted) in a world where empathy is desperately needed. Cynics need not apply and neither should those whose deepest thought as they enter the Cineplex is whether they will get to see their chosen patch of skin or requisite amount of gore. Agnes (and for that matter Peter) is often naked throughout the film but only the most callous of viewers will find it very enticing and the violence here does what violence should do in this kind of story being well placed and truly visceral, unpleasant. Yes this is a horror movie, but it's more, much more, than what the term horror movie has come to mean to the wider movie going audience.
The performances here are very strong and help along with Friedkins dynamic direction to establish a decidedly untheatrical tone. The stage roots here barely show at all but what does shine through are the plays implicit themes of social and relational frailty, how easily those things fall into disrepair and how easily our fears about those things are manipulated. Bug isn't afraid to leave its symbols and metaphors hanging in the air and those symbols and metaphors are that much stronger because of it. A ringing phone with no voice on the other end, the sound of a helicopter, an unseen bug; they all have layers of meaning just as the characters in the film have layers of complexity.
I really believe the ending of this film, which I find pitch perfect, will seperate those willing to dialogue within themselves about the important issues it raises. The rest will carp about not being distracted enough.