Bug (2006)

Plagued by prank phone calls that coincide with the release of her abusive ex-husband from jail, waitress Agnes White (Ashley Judd) tries desperately to distract herself with drunken drug binges in the company of best friend R.C. (Lynn Collins). When R.C. arrives one night with twitchy drifter Peter Evans (Michael Shannon – who starred in Tracy Letts’ original stage play) in tow, the two strike up a strange friendship as they trade lodgings for company. All is not as it seems, however, and with the threat of Jerry Goss (Harry Connick Jr) never far away, Agnes begins to invest in Peter’s exhaustive conspiracy theories that paint him as an ex-Forces guinea pig and revolve around an insect nest hidden by the government somewhere on his person.

I have seen many horror movies and psychological thrillers proclaim to be nearly unbearable, their content so apparently terrifying that audiences have thrown up, passed out or simply left the screen in protest. Indeed, just last week The Devil Inside employed similar tactics as it attempted to con audiences with stock footage of screaming cinema patrons and the declaration that the Vatican itself didn’t want people to see the movie. While I have been at times shocked, appalled and entertained by the genre, however, I have never seen a movie that has caused as deep-seated an impression as the one I watched last night: William Friedkin’s utterly excruciating Bug. Your skin will crawl.

Having previously directed The Exorcist, it is perhaps unsurprising that Friedkin is so at home in the horror genre. However, while The Exorcist‘s once-controversial portrayal of profane possession has somewhat dulled in the intervening years, its scares so hyped and religiosity so staid that it is impossible to be fully satisfied by the so-called classic so long after the fact, 2006’s Bug is so ruthlessly grounded in reality that if anything it has become more effective and weirdly relevant six years down the line. While The Exorcist took mental ill-health and gave it an overtly supernatural spin, Bug is a tale of schizophrenia that is terrifyingly true to life.

An almost Cronenbergian tale of body horror, the cloying tension is expertly established with a series of unexplained phone calls to a woman alone at night. From here, the narrative’s oppressive atmosphere refuses to abate as Shannon’s characteristic picture of instability arrives on her doorstep with worrying incongruousness. As the two character try desperately to identify the source of a sound – believed at the time to be that of a cricket – the director ranks up the raw intensity to its absolute zenith as a few minor coincidences are blown out of proportion in a feat of absolutely staggering – but faultlessly well-observed – paranoia.

The two leads are nothing short of exceptional, with their near-simultaneous descents into madness played with raw intensity and nuance. While Shannon is a collection of idiosyncratic tics from the off, Judd’s transformation is far more marked, though with hindsight it is clear that her own paranoia is just as congenital as that of her unofficial house-guest. As madness sets in, the film shifts gears and what was once merely unsettling becomes resolutely horrific. One scene in particular, as Shannon attempts to dislodge an aching tooth believed to house a nest of man-eating, signal transmitting aphids with anything to hand, is one of the most fraught, stomach-churning and fundamentally harrowing things I have ever watched.

While Take Shelter, Shannon’s most recent foray into obsessive compulsion, might raise a few hairs with its paranoid preparations for an apparently encroaching storm, Bug mark’s the actor’s most devastatingly oppressive performance to date. Rife with tension and riddled with hysteria, Bug is a film which utterly convinces whether Friedkin has his stars swatting bed bugs or masking their location with rolls of crumpled tin foil. Just as Contagion had you clocking coughs for weeks, Bug will leave you scratching unthinkingly whether there is anything there or not.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

One Response to Bug (2006)

  1. Pingback: March 2012 – Fire all things that go bang! « popcornaddict

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