I honestly haven’t seen a lot of William Friedkin’s movies. As a matter of fact, outside of “the Exorcist”, I don’t think I’ve seen any of his other movies. Despite that, fond memories of “the Exorcist” were enough to get me anticipated for this flick, even if said exorcism movie was made thirty years ago. To my surprise, Friedkin has lost little of his touch in the three decades since his biggest success. “Bug” is a very unnerving, uncomfortable and unsettling film that’ll make you feel itchy all over.
Agnes (Ashley Judd) is a troubled woman living out of a motel in the Midwest. Her friend introduces her to a strange but intriguing man named Peter (Michael Shannon) and she invites him to stay with her. She soon discovers that Peter isn’t alone. He has brought with himself a terrible swarm of aphid-like bugs that nest in your skin and eat your flesh. However, the longer she spends with Peter the more both of them mentally unwind, as the pair begins to suspect they are at the epicenter of a government conspiracy.
“Bug” is very much a psychological thriller/horror film that plays with the audience’s heads. You never see the bugs, and as the film progresses, you start to doubt they even exist. Yet whether the bugs are present or not, Friedkin crafts an atmosphere so uncomfortable you can’t help but feel your skin crawl.
I’m going to assume most everyone reading this has seen “the Exorcist”. If you haven’t then there must be something wrong with you. Well, “Bug” is set up very much the same way as “the Exorcist”. It takes a while to get going. About an hour, in fact. Yet, unlike some movies (“Death Proof”), the focus is never lost and this doesn’t feel like wasted time. The characters are introduced, developed and fleshed out, yet not at the expense of the film’s true plot. The tension builds steadily and once the real conflict gets underway everything begins to move at a hectic pace. It all eventually comes to a head and, much like “the Exorcist”, ends abruptly yet satisfyingly.
One thing I want to praise Friedkin on is the use of editing. Conversations happen in “real time” with as few cuts as possible, meaning the actors are delivering these very long sequences of complex dialogue without getting a breather. And to the cast’s credit, they do it very well. It doesn’t seem so impressive at first, as many of the discussions are rather mundane or run of the mill, but once Peter and Agnes begin to lose their minds and go off on extensive and psychotic rants for what feels like an eternity, you’ll start to squirm in your seat. And the things they say are so ludicrous and mind-blowing you’ll have a stern “what the” expression frozen on your face for at least an hour.
As far as the whole “are the bugs real or not” conflict is concerned, it isn’t nearly as cut and dry as you’d think. Agnes and Peter are nuts, there’s no two ways about that, yet there are several mysterious, unexplained and creepy things going on around them, outside their hallucinations, which seem to almost validate some of their paranoia. The movie gives you no precise answers either, leaving you to come to your own conclusions.
“Bug” feels like a movie that could’ve been made thirty years ago. It’s starkly different than most of the horror thrillers released in mainstream theaters these days, with their multi-million dollar budgets and glossy sheens. While movies like “Grindhouse” and “House of 1000 Corpses” try to homage or parody horror films from the 70’s, “Bug” feels like it stepped directly out of that decade. It’s certain to be overlooked, but I would easily recommend it to any serious horror fan looking for something different, but more importantly, something good.