Bug is the film version of a stage play - basically a two character
psychological drama about the lethal combination
of paranoia and loneliness. Ashley Judd plays a lonely bartender, divorced
from a violent convict, living in a flop-house motel in the middle of some
white trash desert hell, she's surviving without companionship or prospects
and abusing any
recreational substance she can acquire. Through a concatenation of
circumstances, she ends up hooking up with a shy, polite drifter. He quickly
progresses from sleeping on her floor to joining her in bed, and in her
hopeless desert he seems to be a movable oasis.
Gee, he's nice.
Only one slight problem. He's as nutty as a fruitcake.
Once he gets in that bed of hers, he quickly concludes that it is filled
with bugs. Ashley can't see the bugs he points out to her, but he seems
rational at first, even scientific in his evaluation of the situation, so
she goes along with his conclusions. As time progresses, he becomes ever
more obsessive about the bugs, and she is drawn into the obsession. We
begin to suspect he's not all there when he buys an entire hardware store full of sprays and no-pest strips,
but that's only the beginning of his battle with the insects.
The drifter's bug obsession becomes more and more maniacal until by the time the film
ends, he and Judd are living in a unique made-for-paranoids world, with
everything in the hotel room covered with tinfoil except for the bug zappers hanging
everywhere. Along the way the drifter offers the explanation that he has had
egg sacs implanted in his teeth by the mad experiments of government
scientists. No problem, though, he just rips out the suspicious tooth.
fundamentally just two people in a single hotel room getting crazier and
crazier. Each moment of the film tries to make us squirm a bit more than the
preceding one. The harrowing denouement resembles that of Requiem for a
Dream, except that the catalyst is madness rather than heroin.
In terms of commercial prospects ... well, as we say in Texas, this puppy
was doomed from the get-go. It's the kind
of movie where if it were done really poorly, people would hate it, and if
it were done really well, people would hate it even more. Either way, it
would provoke a lot of walk-outs and a lot of negative reactions. As it
turns out, it is done quite well, but that just rachets up the ugliness of
the viewing experience, and invites even higher levels of audience
negativity. The script gradually increases the intensity of the characters'
madness, which in turn amplifies the intensity of the audience's experience
until the story explodes in a crescendo of destruction, as you might expect.
(Not much room for a happy ending with this premise.)
Bug is effective enough at achieving its goal. Unfortunately, that goal
basically consists of shocking us with deeper and deeper levels of dementia.
I have to admit that the film did get under my skin, so to speak, and
thoroughly creeped me out, so it's fair to say that the film is quite
brilliant in its own way. If Edward Albee were a young man today, he might
be exploring alienation with this sort of treatment rather than through The
Zoo Story. But brilliant or not, Bug represents a thoroughly depressing and
unpleasant viewing experience, and that's not going to put a lot of butts in
the theaters, and among the few butts that do get planted in those seats, a
high percentage will be leaving before the film ends.
Guess who directed this fim.
It's William Friedkin. Remember him? In the 1970s, he directed four
consecutive strong films.
The Boys in
the Band (1970)
The top two on that list earned him Best Director nominations from the
academy, and he won the statue for The French Connection. But those four films
remain his four highest-rated theatrical movies, and some of his later
projects have IMDb scores better suited to softcore porn films. In fact,
Bug's 6.7 is the highest IMDb score achieved by any theatrical Friedkin film
in the past two decades. It's not the lavish, big-budget film you
might expect from a graying Hollywood legend, but rather the type of
committed, strident, emotional, subtext-heavy film made by young, bleeding-edge directors
like Aronofsky or Assayas. Despite its box office failure, it received some solid reviews and created some buzz at Sundance, so maybe it is a
springboard to a second career for Friedkin, who is now in his seventies.