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BUG

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Lynn Collins, Brian F. O’Byrne, Harry Connick Jr.
Director: William Friedkin
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Lionsgate
Features: See Review
Length: 101 Minutes
Release Date: September 25, 2007

“I AM THE DRONE!”

Film ***1/2

One mention of a horror movie with the title Bug, and you think you know what to expect. Even the quote above suggests that very thing. But the truth of the matter is the movie is much more terrifying in the most unexpected way. I was thrown off a bit during the opening segments of the movie, but the second half is what makes the movie the very terrifying experience that it is.

The film marks legendary director William Friedkin’s return to the horror genre in quite some time. I would be quick to say that it’s Friedkin’s first time back to the genre since his classic The Exorcist, but I had forgotten he made a movie called The Guardian in 1990 which I’ve been told is…well, pretty forgettable. So it’s been 17 years since he graced the horror genre, and what is very clear is that Bug is one of the director’s best films to date.

I should forewarn readers that if you watch the movie expecting one kind of horror movie, such as the one the title of the move suggests, chances are you might be a bit disappointed. However, let the movie play out and once you get to that final half hour, as I mentioned earlier, you’ll be glad you did. As of now that part of the movie, as well as the entire film itself is haunting me as I pen this review.

Now that I think about it, you may benefit even more if you stop reading right now, watch the movie, and come back to the review to see if you agree with my points. The less you know about the film, the better.

The film is actually based on a stage play by Tracy Letts, who adapted his own script for the screen. It’s starts out as a character examination of two lonely and damaged souls. Agnes (Ashley Judd), who is wasting away in a motel in the middle of the desert. How she got to this position in life is yet another fact I’ll leave you to discover.

She waitresses at a nearby lesbian bar, where her only friend R.C. (Lynn Collins) frequents nightly. One night after work, R.C. surprises Agnes by introducing her to a stranger named Peter (Michael Shannon), who seems to have drifted in out of the blue. They get to talking as the night progresses, and the lonely Agnes takes a liking to him.

Peter is a most eccentric type. He tells Agnes that he doesn’t want sex or anything, but just maybe a little human connection. But since Agnes is so emotionally shattered and hasn’t talked to a man in so long, something about Peter comforts her, even as we the audience can detect a creepy demeanor under the surface.

Before long, the two are shacked up in her motel room, but then something weird starts to develop. Bugs begin to appear all around the room and Peter is convinced that they are feeding on his blood. There’s a possibility he could be delusional, but Agnes starts to experience a similar condition, finding bugs right under her skin.

And there’s one more character in the mix, Agnes’ abusive ex-husband Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr.), who keeps popping back into her life after doing a two-year stint in prison. In fact, he seems to pop up more frequently once the bug problem takes effect. In a routine film, we’d expect Jerry and Peter to have an immediate face off, but Bug is far unique for that approach and you’ll see what I mean when you see for yourself.

Without giving away any other plot or character details, I want to focus on the film’s stunning second act, which had my heart pumping with each progressing minute. The motel room has been given an intense look thanks to a blue tint, reminiscent of the dynamic hockey rink showdown in last year’s Running Scared. A doctor named Sweet (Brian F. O’Byrne) ,from Peter’s past, enters the picture and confronts Agnes with an explanation that seems convincing, but is it?

What then follows is stunning piece of acting by both leads, but I’d like to especially praise Michael Shannon, who is reprising his role from the stage play. His manic physical performance mixed with his intense dialogue delivery is the kind of savagely scary performance that we never usually see in a film of this genre, and Shannon’s performance is enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. And though it will be overlooked come Oscar time, Shannon is very deserving of an Oscar nomination.

Again, this is a movie that will certainly have its share of both haters and admirers, but I’m hoping that more viewers will fall under the latter category. Bug is a thoroughly effective, unrelenting and purely masterful piece of psychological horror that is impossible to shake from your memory. Friedkin’s remarkably tight directing and the strong performances elevate this above the average horror film, and into the realm of something that is truly rare and unexpected.

Video ****

Though the film is mostly confined to one setting, this anamorphic presentation from Lionsgate is quite strong and visually intense. Image quality is clear and crisp throughout, as well as alive with some nice overall detail. And the visual power displayed in the last half of the movie provides what I can only describe as pure video excellence.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix is thoroughly effective especially since this is the rarest of cases; an intense frightening film that is mostly dialogue driven. Friedkin does allow some strong effects with the sound early on in the picture, as with that of a ringing phone and an unseen helicopter that circles the motel on more than one occasion. Again, the final moments provide some big time jolts!

Features **1/2

Though this is labeled as a Special Edition release from Lionsgate, the extras aren’t as many as you’d expect. What is provided is good enough as we get a commentary track with William Friedkin, who always has much to talk about regarding his films. “Bug: An Introduction” is actually a behind the scenes look as opposed to an actual introduction before the film begins. Lastly, there is another featurette, “A Discussion with William Friedkin” and bonus previews for additional Lionsgate releases.

Summary:

Although I’m sure that detractors of the film will even wonder why it’s considered a horror film, the disturbing aspects of Bug do indeed place it within the genre. Again, you will be creeped out big time, only in ways you aren’t going to expect.

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