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    Posted: Mar-03-2015 at 7:57am
Bug (2006) Rated "R"
Starring Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Lynn Collins, Brian F. O'Byrne, Harry Connick, Jr.
Directed by William Friedkin
Review by Nicholas Ozment
Rating: (2/5):

In the trailer for Bug, Mr. Movie-Preview-Voice says in that slow, deep, menacing tone, "They live in your blood. They feed on your brain." The trailer also emphasizes it is from the director of The Exorcist(William Friedkin), and quotes a critic proclaiming, "One of the most disturbing horror movies imaginable."

If you rent Bug, it will likely be because you were intrigued by this trailer. And when you pop the DVD out of your player an hour and forty-one minutes later, you may feel like you've been had.

Lions Gate's marketing department has done a bait-and-switch. Bug, though its subject matter is horrific, is not a "horror film", it is an art-house film, actually a play (by Tracy Letts) adapted to the big screen. If I were reviewingBug for what it is--art-house fare adapted from a drama of psychological suspense--I might give it a higher rating (maybe another half-star). But I'm reviewing it as a film marketed in a specific genre, horror. This is what Lion's Gate has geared its audience to expect, and therefore I approach it as such.

The movie opens with a striking aerial shot--one of the few outdoor shots in the whole movie--of a desolate stretch of Kansas prairie. The camera zooms down onto a lone, dilapidated motel in the middle of nowhere. Even this bird's-eye view of Kansas flatland is claustrophobic, because the motel, surrounded as it is by open plains, feels isolated, enclosed by emptiness. That sets the tone for the film--most of it takes place in a single unit of this "rustic" motel.

We meet Agnes (Ashley Judd), a depressed woman who, when she's not serving drinks at a sleazy bar, spends most of her time holed up in the motel room that is her home, snorting coke and emptying bottles of wine to self-medicate. Judd makes Agnes, sodden mess that she is, a sympathetic character. She has plenty of reason to be paranoid and depressed: her violent ex has just gotten out on parole, and, we soon learn, she lost her only child ten years earlier in a supermarket. The boy was never found, and of course she continues to carry the guilt for that one tragic moment of inattentiveness with its lifelong repercussions.

When Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr.), the ex, shows up and immediately resumes his physically domineering ways, we fear for her. But another man has entered her life, coincidentally, the night before: Peter (Michael Shannon), a drifter who seems a little off. Despite his oddness, at first I fleetingly hoped Agnes might make a healthy connection with another human being, and one who can protect her from her ex to boot. They make a connection, all right, although it's anything but healthy. It soon becomes apparent that Peter is more screwed-up than Agnes, a lot more: he's a paranoid schizophrenic, convinced that the Army did experiments on him, in the process implanting bugs inside him--tiny, burrowing, flesh-eating aphids, to be precise.

Agnes, preferring the man and his bugs to her former loneliness, spirals with him in a One-Flew-Over-the-Cuckoo?s-Nest version of Romeo and Juliet. Pretty soon her apartment is transformed into an anti-bug nightmare of plastic-draped furniture, curtains of dangling flypaper, and tinfoil covering every wall. It is a shared nightmare, but one in which these two tortured minds prefer to be together, rather than sane and apart.

There are scenes that are disturbing and horrific--escalating self-mutilation to remove the egg sacs, for instance--but this movie is, after all, an adaptation of a play. It is a one-room drama that mostly consists of long stretches of talking. As I said, it's not what most audience members are expecting, and some will not be happy about going out for Mexican and being served Mandarin.

To the movie's credit, if I had seen it at an art-house (or if I'd seen the original stage production), I would have been more affected by the nihilistic tragedy it presents of two characters who respond to an insane world by becoming even more insane. The performances by Judd and Shannon are Oscar-worthy.

But with the deliberately misleading expectations Lions Gate nurtured, I kept being distracted by what this movie is not. I was not alone--the audience I saw it with in its original theatrical release restlessly fidgeted during the interminable stretches of talking, and laughed at inappropriate moments (especially during scenes when Agnes and Peter are naked--I was acutely aware of being in a theater full of teenagers in America, rather than Europe where naked people seem to be less of a shocking novelty).

So, will Bug get under your skin? Depends on how you approach it. But given its resoundingly bleak resolution, it may not be the best candidate for escapist summer fare.

Edited by SFReader - Jul-08-2016 at 8:08am
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