Directed by William Friedkin. Starring Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Lynn Collins, Brian F. O'Byrne, Michael Shannon. (2007, R, 102 min.)
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., June 1, 2007
Try as it may, Bug never really gets under your skin. Adapted from Tracy Letts’ highly regarded off-Broadway play, this disturbing love story about two damaged people who come to share the same paranoid fantasy in a secluded motel room isn’t the horror film you’ve been led to believe it is. Sure, the idea of microscopic vermin burrowing into the bodies of lovers Agnes and Peter is enough to set your teeth on edge, but the emotional underpinnings of the narrative and the steady stream of dialogue will distract those expecting something much more visceral and terrifying from Bug. No stranger to horror, director Friedkin (The Exorcist) amps up the action with a couple of gory set-pieces – among them a spontaneous tooth extraction will have most in the audience covering their eyes – but those scenes seem extraneous to the psychological terror that is the core of Letts’ play. It’s never clear whether the creepy crawlers infesting the lives of the two lovers are the products of their merged, overripe imaginations or whether they are horrifically real manifestations of every unthinkable conspiracy theory imaginable. That ambiguity most likely worked well onstage, but in the more literal medium of film, it will only beg the question for most filmgoers. Judd and Shannon give admirable performances – they go from zero to 60 in the course of the film, bonding in their lonely desperation in the film’s first half and then progressively becoming more and more unhinged up through the film’s deliriously intense last 20 minutes, in which they strip themselves bare, both literally and figuratively. It’s an emotional nakedness that is unsettling, to say the least, but ultimately it does little to elucidate the meaning of all of this stuff about bugs. By the end of Bug, you may find yourself scratching yourself as well – your head, that is – wondering what the hell this is all about.