William Friedkin’s adaptation of “Bug” is a clear and stark picture of how often it only takes a nudge to bring someone in to the deep pool of insanity and how they can drown in their own delusions. “Bug” is a slow burn horror thriller that pictures two people colliding in a perfect storm of misery and sadness that have convinced themselves that there are dark forces outside that have caused their sadness and misery. It’s not negligence, or ignorance, or just plain bad decision making, it’s “something else” entirely, and what’s haunting is how easy they are willing to bend to the notion that there is an elaborate force outside their door manipulating their lives, rather than own up to the fact that some of us can never truly learn from our mistakes and from our pasts.
“Bug” is such a profound and excellent horror drama and one that is obviously derived from a stage play. Most of “Bug” is set in the confines of a dusty and dark motel room, where a small incident brings about a humongous torrent of violence and rapid breakdown of mental faculties. Ashley Judd plays Agnes, a run down waitress who wiles her days away working at a local lesbian bar and doing drugs in her small dusty motel room. When her friend RC brings along Peter, a man she met at the bar, Agnes begins to form a fascination for him that gradually begins to turn in to lust. Michael Shannon gives a very intricately measured performance as an unlikely intrusion in Agnes’ already rough life, as he approaches her in a very soft spoken and unassuming personality.
This takes Agnes off guard, as she’s more accustomed to aggressive and louder men. Agnes is shocked when her abusive husband Jerry, played beautifully by Harry Connick Jr., arrives from jail and is intent on worming his way back in to her life. Despite her best efforts to assert herself, Jerry has no plans to leave her in her solitude any time soon. After traveling to seal some old debts, Agnes finds herself alone and cooped up with Peter in her room, where Peter slowly unravels, revealing more and more sordid details about himself. The sudden arrival of bugs in the room quickly convinces him that he’s being infiltrated by someone from his enigmatic military past. “Bug” is mainly a film about tortured souls and insanity, and it can be very much defined as a horror film.
The way Friedkin internalizes and externalizes the immense mental pain that Agnes and Peter endure, and in the apparent ways they ultimately deal with their lives is compelling even if disturbing. The first half relies a lot on build up and complex layering of these characters, all of whom live in their own world, stuck in their regrets and guilt. All these characters do is harp on the past, and dwell on their pain, perfectly comfortable in their pain, rather than anxiously looking for a way to move forward. Friedkin’s direction is matched by the brilliant performances, especially by Judd, who just dominates the screen as this woman whose mental destruction was inevitable and is beyond any sense of clarity or redemption. “Bug” is a horror gem, it’s an intelligent and complex peek in to the darkness of mental illness and its tendency to destroy and explode violently.