Dir: William Friedkin. US. 2006. 102mins.
An old dogtries to show off some new tricks in Bug,as veteran director William Friedkin (The Exorcist) attempts the trickytransfer of a bizarre theatrical hybrid to the cinema screen. The back-to-basicsapproach pays dividends in terms of the intensity of the performances and thesustained sense of menace. The challenge of the exercise appears to havereached the parts of Friedkin that big budget studiomaterial has failed to excite in recent years and he should earn the kind ofsurprise and respect accorded Joel Schumacher when he made Tigerland.
Unfortunatelythe material itself leaves you wondering if it was worth all the effort as itseeks to fuse together a messy saga of domestic abuse, loneliness, paranoid delusions,violent murder and bugs. Earning full marks for originality, Bug is likely to find a cult nichesomewhere beneath the more satisfying TheMachinist, but is too extreme and offbeat to attract mainstream interest.It played in Directors Fortnight at Cannes.
Setlargely within the confines of a couple of rooms in a rundown motel, Bug's initial focus is on Agnes (Judd),a lonely waitress who has learned to mistrust the world. Insulated from life bybooze and drugs, she fears the return of her abusive ex-husband Jerry (Connick Jr) who has just beenparoled.
Sofar you could be forgiven for assuming that we had wandered into a Sam Shepardplay. Then Agnes befriends Peter (Shannon), an awkward drifter who quicklybecomes a trusted friend. It is Peter who first senses the presence of bugs inthe motel and persuades Agnes that the world is no longer a safe place.
Makingexemplary use of sound, from the whirl of a helicopter blade to a insistent ring of a phone, Bug convinces you that something awful is about to happen. The mostobvious threat is from the ex-husband but Harry ConnickJr's character belongs to a different, moreconventional film and almost serves as a red herring.
Strayinginto the kind of territory mapped out in Todd Haynes Safe (1995) and Darren Aronofksy's Requiem For A Dream (2000), Bug becomes an increasingly weird andgarrulous psychological thriller in which the line between reality and delusionis wiped away as a deranged Peter convinces the vulnerable Agnes that they areboth the victims of a dastardly military conspiracy.
Ina welcome change of pace from the women in peril thrillers that have definedher screen image, Ashley Judd shows great dedication to the role of the trashy,tragic Agnes. But it is Michael Shannon who is the revelation, committinghimself body and soul to a tour de force performance as a man who faces hisgreatest threat from the forces that are inside his mind.
LIFT Production DMK
Kimberly C Anderson
Tracey Letts, adapted from her play
Harry Connick Jr