If William Friedkin is remembered for nothing else in his career, he’ll be remembered for the horror classic, The Exorcist. Since making the 1973 film (right after making the brilliant The French Connection), Friedkin’s career hasn’t quite been as illustrious. Few of his films have been very good, and he’s just seemed to lose the winning touch he once had. So with this in mind, I watched Bug expecting something pretty poor.
Agnes White is a barmaid who’s hit rock bottom. She lives in a motel, drinking, taking drugs and dreading the release from prison of her ex-husband. She’s mourning the loss of her son Lloyd, who disappeared from a store ten years previous. One evening, her colleague and friend, R.C. brings to her room, Peter Evans, a quiet, strange man who has an ominous air about him. Despite her initial discomfort around him, Agnes allows Evans to stay the night. When her ex-husband arrives in the room, Evans provides something of a comfort for Agnes, so she tells him he doesn’t have to leave. But there’s something wrong with Evans. He’s convinced the government have implanted bugs beneath his skin as a way of tracing his movements. But is he crazy or telling the truth?
Bug is a very unusual film. It’s adapted from an award-winning off-Broadway play of the same name. Set entirely in the room in the motel, as the story progresses, the feeling of claustrophobia intensifies. The story feeds off the paranoia that exists in today’s society. There is a general feeling that every movement we make is being watched by the powers that be, and it’s that paranoia that drives the narrative of the film. While Evans’ claims that his body is infested with bugs at first seems ridiculous, you do find yourself questioning as to whether he’s telling the truth. It’s this paranoia that pulls Agnes into Evans’ world. She’s searching for something to fill a void in her life, and his paranoia fills it nicely. And in that, the audience is drawn in too.
The performances from Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon who play Agnes White and Peter Evans respectively, are essential to the film, and both are excellent. Shannon, who reprises the role from the stage version, at first seems quiet and brooding. There’s something not right about him, yet he doesn’t seem dangerous. However, as his delusions take hold, he becomes more and more unhinged and his performance intensifies. Playing opposite him, Ashley Judd seems just as weary and exhausted as her character is. She seems eaten away due to the loss of her son, to the point where you feel she is just drinking herself to death. But when Evans arrives in her life, she seems to find purpose again. It’s a brilliant performance from both actors.
Friedkin’s direction is brilliant. The film seems to be a horror film at one point, and then a paranoid thriller at another, yet the film does not have a visible seem that splits it into two genres, in the way that say, From Dusk Til Dawn has. The lines are blurred and you find yourself questioning what exactly you’re watching as the story unfolds. Friedkin’s at his best when directing intense performances, and he has two here. While the film isn’t perfect, and suffers from some hammy dialogue at moments, it’s certainly a memorable film and worth checking out. Not if you’re looking for something upbeat, however. It is a pretty grim watch!