Those wild guesses, I'd wildly wager, would be el-wrong-o! Bug is far from your typical "Trapped in a House" thriller. In fact, Bug is scarcely a horror film at all, Friedkin-schmeidkin.
Instead, Bug is much more of a paranoid drama that mixes a few different genres into a bizarre and character-driven psychological thriller. In this way, almost ironically, Bug might inspire memories of another insect-themed (but not insect-themed) genre-busting flick: The Fly. But even that analogy is almost as accurate as a kindergartener's attempt at logarithms.
Bug originated as a stage play, and Friedkin and company preserve that vibe here pretty damned well, faithfully preserving the limited locations (Bug makes My Dinner With Andre seem like The Accidental Tourist) and that voyeuristic "fly on the fourth wall" nature that the most interesting intimate plays boggart in spades. The main reason for this is that Friedkin is a fan. Seeing the stage play prompted him to make the movie... and viva la film.
Judd takes the screen in full Southern Accent (hey, how did a Judd get a Southern Accent?) as a straight waitress in a Lesbian Bar (what a waste) named Agnes White. She's got a painfully colorful past, a dick of an ex-husband (Harry Connick, Jr.'s surprisingly buff Jerry Goss), a hot Lesbian best friend named R.C. (Lynn Collins)... and very little else. In fact, the little she does have is scattered haphazardly around the bathroom, kitchenette and bedroom of the seedy Oklahoma motel "suite" she sweats in, when she's not sweating it out in the Lesbian Bar she's employed by.
And... this has been a shitty week for Agnes. She's practically out of dope and booze, she's been getting creepy silent phone calls and her smilin' ex gets out of jail, fists a-swingin', and he ain't singin' her "It Had To be You" even once, man! Enter a new amigo of R.C.'s, a remarkably perceptive young man named Peter Evans (Michael Shannon, who originated the part on stage). To say the least, Peter is an oddball, but an endearing oddball... endearing enough to win over even angry Agnes.
What threatens to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship soon variably evolves and devolves into a bizarre and unhealthy love story within those dingy walls. After a sweaty (and Judd-revealing) sex scene ol' Peter discovers the first Bug. And they keep coming... and coming... and coming...
Outside, violent Goss is trying desperately to get in (sometimes with some very unlikely allies like Brían F. O'Byrne's Dr. Sweet). Inside Agnes and Peter are trying desperately to keep everyone else out, and everything they have inside... in. By any means necessary.
Judd's acting here is very fine, as always, here brining forth an anything-but-glamorous hard luck woman with a whole lot of nothing. If this were your typical "Ashley Judd Movie" she'd soon team up with a rogue detective and take revenge on the government, the big industries, the UFO pilots, the Oklahoma City Bombers, Jim Jones, the... well, she'd have to ask Peter, wouldn't she? Peter's paranoia is palpable here as brought fourth by Michael Shannon. Shannon's subtle quirkiness explodes gradually (with only vage, yet frightening, early hints) into a full-blown psychosis as the film's 102 minutes progresses. In that this is, in fact, not a typical "Ashley Judd Movie", Agnes somehow falls into his spiral with him as the Bugs encroach on their reality.
But the real brilliance of Bug is the way that the completely implausibly laughable is brought from the land of the ludicrous into the zone of the merely questionable. It's hard to say exactly what is real and what is unreal during most of Bug's run-time. Just when something seems to be grounded firmly in reality, something just too uncanny to be credible subtly presents itself. Just when everything seems chaotically insane, something almost plausible knocks on the door and says "Buzz".
Much of this is a credit to original playwright and now screenwriter Tracy Letts, who mixes so many questions into this molten daiquiri of doubt that the viewer will either be repulsed, engaged or bored due to complete confusion. Of course, none... and I mean NONE of this would work in any way, shape or form without the fine acting chops of its small cast. Bug is a drama and is at its best during the fine stretches of (oft overlapping) dialogue. How does any part of Bug feel real? The Actors believe in it.
In addition to all this, quite a lot of credit should go to Friedkin as director and visionary. Though possibly best known for his direction of The Exorcist, Freidkin's resume primarily consists of action flicks from The French Connection to To Live and Die in L.A. to that Jade bullshit. Here Friedkin takes his time, perhaps too much, and builds the psychological tension to a shaking crescendo. His camera eye is still dead on as is his ability to evoke some superb performances from his cast, often by interfering, often by keeping his hands off the can of Raid! The anxious mood in Bug is more than just visual, though. Throughout the film there is a mild, underlying buzzing sound, as if someone in the projection booth forgot to close the optical sound door. The sound is subtly amplified at the right times and, in the absolutely perfect times, it becomes a stage-shaking nightmare. Yeah, this is a creepy, creepy film from the sights to the sounds to the mood...
But it's not perfect either. In many ways, Friedkin forces the audience into a waiting game in which he asks a lot of us in the trust category. Does it all pay off? Most of it, yes. But it's also just a tad on the stiff side, often. There is also a degree of sameness here that exceeds even the expectations of the paranoids in the audience. Sure this is mixed up in many ways by the changes in these people and the changes in their environment, but as the bugs close in, one is just begging to see something happen.
But happen, it does, and it leaves Bug with a disturbing, yet satisfying, aftertaste. Is Bug worth its Buzz? Know what you're getting into and yes. That is to say, be prepared for surprises, be prepared for tense insanity... but don't prepare yourself for The Exorcist or The French Connection. And as the credits roll, I submit this to you: While it's true that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean their not after you, it also, sure as Smirnoff is Sweet, doesn't mean that they are. Now take your Three and One Half Stars out of Five and like it. I promise you, your head won't spin around.
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