Bug - ***1/2
Starring: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick, Jr.
Directed by: William Friedken
Review: This is not going to be like my normal reviews. I just happened to catch this movie on cable and, having heard of it and being slightly intrigued by it I thought I would give it a viewing. Not to mention being directed by William Friedken (The French Connection, The Exorcist) and starring Ashley Judd can't hurt right? Anyway, I wasn't going to review the movie at first, especially because I cam in about 20 minutes late. However, except for some slight character back story (which you pick up on throughout the movie anyway) I caught the majority of the movie and everything that is important for the review. Also, I will apologize in advance for the spoilers but it is necessary to truly espouse my feelings on this movie. If my rating on the movie has intrigued you at all to this point STOP READING NOW AND SEE THE MOVIE BEFORE YOU READ THE REST OF THE REVIEW.
This will probably be more of a stream of consciousness review as I initially didn't think the movie was anything special, but I can't seem to stop thinking about and become more and more intrigued the more I think about it. You see, sometimes a movie will be a certain type of movie (and usually nothing special) at first pass, but then the more you think about it and mull it over, it takes a different light. This movie is a prime example. What I thought at initial viewing was a sub par horror movie, ended up taking a new angle as a tragic love story.
As aforementioned, after watching this movie I came away from it thinking "what a stupid movie, the ending sucked, and it didn't really have a point, bug infestation affecting people...not even all that original." But there was a small "bug" in my mind about it still. I couldn't stop thinking about this movie and it was because of some fleeting thoughts that were running through my head during my viewing of the movie, which I will get to shortly. Eventually I came away with a much different outlook.
The movie centers around a lonely bartender with an abusive ex who has just recently gotten out of jail. Her ex hasn't come to see her yet but it is inevitable. One night, Judd's character Agnes is hanging out with a friend after work and her friend introduces her to Peter, a soldier she met that was recently discharged from the Army. They all make it back to Agnes' apartment and hang out for the rest of the night. Peter is nice and courteous the whole night. So much so, that even after Agnes' friend leaves he asks to stay the night but only wants to sleep on the couch and does not attempt to make a move on Agnes. This endears Peter to Agnes very much, so she invites him to stay another night. Inevitably, they end up sleeping together.
This is where it starts. In the middle of the night when the two are sleeping, Peter is abruptly awoke by a bug bite. Peter gets up and turns on the light and begins to search for the bug to make sure it is killed and doesn't bite either of them again. This is where we learn a little bit more about Peter. He finds the bug in the sheets and tries to show it to Agnes, but she can't see it at first. After much prodding (pulling the light close and saying "there, can't you see it?"), Agnes finally sees it. Peter tells her it is an aphid and goes on to discuss in depth about bugs and aphids and why he will have to search the entire sheets to make sure there are no more. He spouts off a great amount of bug knowledge and begins to sound real smart, which is contrary to the slow country vibe he was giving off previously. As Agnes even states "I like hearing you talk." You begin to sense this newfound smartness of Peters endears him even more to Agnes.
Take Agnes' loneliness, throw in the fact that she already slept with Peter, and now he is a bon-a-fide smart dude, and Agnes quickly falls in love. This means she will stay with Peter even though there is an impending bug infestation. While Agnes is out running errands, Peter goes and gets enough bug-be-gone supplies to start a war against all insects. When Agnes comes back with her friend it is pointed out to her friend how bad the bug situation is for the both of them. Peter is covered with rash-like bug bites and some small ones are starting to show up on Agnes as well.
As it turns out, Agnes actually went to a dermatologist during the day with her friend. According to her friend, the dermatologist said there was no bug bite but that it was something that was more than likely self inflicted. Peter chooses not to believe this as he states it is all part of the conspiracy the Army has set in motion to hide the experiments they performed on him, one of which led to the bug infestation they are currently dealing with.
From here the movie really kicks off as conspiracy theories abound and these two star-crossed lovers begin to spiral into heavy infestation...or insanity. This is where the crux of the movie really is and why, after much thought, I really enjoyed it. The movie plays on the fact that we think it's going to be a horror movie and uses that to it's advantage. The movie was based on a play, which is good because a play doesn't have special effects to hide anything, everything is right out there so if you need to hide something you have to be real clever about it, which the writer and director is in this movie.
Peter begins to become increasingly paranoid as more bugs begin to infest his body. He starts spouting off conspiracy theories about how the Army ran experiments on him, about how he was able to escape, and how that's why there are bugs around because they were implanted in his skin so the Army could track him down. These all seem unbelievable at first but his story is so convincing (as is the way he tells it) that Agnes believes him and wants to help protect him.
This is where the pivotal scene of the movie comes into play. A doctor comes to visit Agnes to discuss her relationship with Peter and possibly lead to his capture. The doctor turns out to be a psychologist and persists to tell Agnes that Peter is insane and that there were no experiments and there are no bugs (Peter is hiding in the bathroom during all of this). By this time, they have turned the motel room into a bug fortress. Everything in the room is covered in tin foil and the only lighting are the several fluorescent blue bug lamps they have hung in the room. The doctor tells Agnes that Peter is a delusional schizophrenic and that bugs are often a common delusion for these types. Could it be? What the dermatologist said was true? There are no bugs or bug bites and they are all self inflicted? But she saw the bugs. Didn't she?
Eventually, Peter decides to come out of the bathroom and kill the doctor, claiming he is part of the conspiracy. Now Agnes is torn. The doctor was beginning to get through to her and she was beginning to wonder if the bugs weren't all just in their imagination and their bug bites were self inflicted (or worse, inflicted on her by Peter). On the other hand, Peter begins to rant again about conspiracy theories and the bugs in his blood and sucks Agnes back in to his own little world.
This brings us to about the last 20 minutes of the movie which are very intense as the full paranoia of these two spirals completely out of control. They begin to go back and forth with each other about mundane details and pure coincidences that they now believe to be all a part of this grand conspiracy. Peter's part is due to his ever increasing insanity, whereas Agnes' part is due to her love for Peter dragging her into this insanity with him.
This is what really caught me from the film. During the scene where the doctor was trying to convince Agnes of Peter's insanity the thought popped into my head that the movie would be brilliant if all the "bug" talk was just a delusion of Peter's and Agnes was simply saying she could "see" them and inflicting "bites" on herself just because she loved Peter so much and wanted to believe him because of that love, that she is spiraling into Peter's world of insanity. Agnes would do this to herself because she was so lonely before and is so in love with him now that being insane with him is better than being sane alone. The movie would be brilliant IF that was the case...
After initial viewing I thought the makers of this movie did not have the skill to pull that off and this really was just a bug horror movie. That being the case, I thought the movie was 2 stars and not really worth my time (except for the always amazingly gorgeous Ashley Judd). However, that is when I realized that the movie was directed by the skilled William Friedkin. Further, I could not get the movie out of my head so I did some research and found out that Friedkin himself thought of the movie as a love story. That is when it clicked, all my thoughts were correct. This was a love story and the filmmakers did have the skill to pull if all off. This was a Romeo & Juliet style love story, except instead of killing themselves to be with one another, these two drive themselves insane (and do end up killing each other).
So what about this captivated me so much? I would have to say it was Ashley Judd's performance. I don't know why but it was intoxicating. Even as I write this review I can't stop thinking about her in this movie. She was phenomenal. She was able to perfectly capture the loneliness that someone in Agnes' position would be feeling and how that and her desire for love would catapult her into insanity. She could not have played the part more perfectly. Her monologue at the end (save for the very end of it which might have been a tad too much) was amazing. You can literally see her grasping at the last straws of reality and then letting them go as she falls head first into insanity.
Actually, the final 20 minutes sees both Agnes and Peter fall completely into insanity (although Peter didn't have that far to go). The two spastically go back and forth about bugs and conspiracies and are constantly on alert, at times slipping back into their primeval stages of development (at one point, they rummage through a pizza looking for bugs as a monkey would rummage through another monkey's hair looking for the same thing). At times, this can be a little much but ultimately it is the brilliance of William Friedkin that allows the actors and the film itself to toe the line between going to far and staying right where it needs to be. Save for a couple small instances, the movie does in fact stay right where it needs to be.
The only major gripe I could have is the ending. It provides closure, but a little more resolution would have been better. Then again, if it had that resolution it probably wouldn't have bended my mind so much and caused me to write this ridiculously long review. Speaking of which, I apologize for the length. This is the longest review I have ever written but I had to speak to how much I really liked this movie. If you watch it, don't judge right away, give it some time. Right after the movie was over, I would have given it 2 stars, when I sat down to write this review, I would have given it 3 stars, at this point, I am going to give it 3 1/2 stars. I highly recommend this movie and it is definitely worth your time.