Director: William Friedkin.
Screenplay: Tracy Letts.
Starring: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick Jr, Lynn Collins, Brian F. O’Byrne.
When Bug was released in 2006, I all but ignored it, thinking it was going to be nothing more than a cheap, straight to DVD horror flick with giant cannibalistic ants and shit. It wasn’t until I took notice of actor Michael Shannon that the film resurfaced again and found it’s way onto my ‘to see list’. I took me a while to get a hold of it though and as a result it fell off my radar again until I was reminded of it recently. Now, I’m glad to say that I have seen it and it wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be. It far exceeded my expectations.
Agnes (Ashley Judd) is lonely woman who moves into a rundown motel to escape her husband Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr) who has just been released from prison. She is introduced to eccentric drifter Peter (Michael Shannon) who seems to be hiding something and is prone to the occasional conspiracy theory. Not before long, things start to unravel as a bug infestation takes over the motel room.
Based on the play by Tracy Letts (who also writes the screenplay) and set largely within the confines of a remote motel room, it’s easy to see why this material would have played well on stage. It’s claustrophobic atmosphere is captured straight away by Friedkin and his unsteady camerawork lends a perfect sense of unease within the characters and their confined space. It begins slowly building with a gradual pace but with the arrival of an on-edge and abusive Connick, Jr and an unsettling and creepy turn from Shannon, the pace escalates to one of unbearable and visceral intensity. This is less of a gory horror and more of a psychological, character driven chamber piece that benefits from three brilliant performances. Unsurprisingly, it’s Shannon who once again stands out. He’s an actor that possesses a natural intensity and this is a role that’s fully suited to his abilities. In fact, it might even be Shannon’s finest performance and that’s saying something. However, it could also be seen as to why Shannon has now, seemingly, been type-cast as a loon-ball. Particularly impressive is Friedkin’s handling of the material though and how it grips with a plot that’s entirely unexpected while exploring the heavy issues of psychological trauma, emotional dependency and delusional paranoid schizophrenia. It’s only towards the end that the film starts to show it’s faults. It does contain a lot of ambiguity but it’s rushed and plot holes do become apparent at this time. So much so that a couple of characters appear and disappear without explanation.
This will not appeal to everyone and those expecting an out-and-out horror will probably be disappointed but if you enjoy your horrors in a more cerebral, psychological fashion, then this certainly delivers.