Friday, August 3, 2012

Bug (2006)

Bug is a movie I remember wanting to see when it was released in theaters in 2006. It was directed by William Friedkin, who was responsible for The Exorcist (1973) and for some reason I was under the impression that it was a remake of the 1975 William Castle production called Bug. I have no idea where I got this impression, but I love that cheesy, horribly wonderful film. I got all excited that the director who made one of the scariest and most respected horror films of all time was remaking a film from the king of the low-budget B-movies from the 50's. Now please understand this- Bug (2006) has absolutely nothing to do with Bug (1975) other than the fact that they share a title. I was misinformed going into this. And I need you to believe, this almost never happens. 

After reading up on the subject, I discovered that Bug (2006) was actually based on a stage play written by Tracy Letts. Which completely makes sense. The story takes place almost entirely in a motel room. There are only five characters and there is a lot of dialogue. The male lead in the film, Michael Shannon, played the same character in the original stage production in London. Letts also wrote the screenplay for the film which is usually a great idea. This is no exception. It totally works here. 

Bug is set in a dirty, cheap motel in Oklahoma. Agnes (Ashley Judd) is a waitress who lives in the motel. She takes a lot of drugs, drinks a lot of booze and doesn't look like she ever sleeps or showers. She works with her friend R.C. (Lynn Collins), a lesbian who boozes with her and seems to want to be more than friends. Agnes also has an abusive ex-husband Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr.) who has just been released from prison. In the opening scene of the film, she's getting calls from someone who remains silent. It freaks her out, but she seems to think it's probably Jerry. One night R.C. brings a stranger to Agnes' motel room. His name is Peter Evans (Michael Shannon). After R.C goes home, Peter stays. As they talk he reveals that he had just met R.C. earlier that same evening. They start talking, make a connection and she asks if he wants to stay the night, but sleep on the couch. He agrees and the movie really takes off in a direction I didn't expect. 

Obviously, the title gives some of it away, but I didn't realize just how far it would all go. 

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who has bi-polar disorder while they are deep inside a manic phase? More than half of this film is like that. Then all of a sudden, you are observing the conversation instead of being a part of it. Is it exhausting? Yes. Is it confusing? Yes. Is it absolutely edge of your seat riveting and interesting to no end? Hell yes! 

Toward the start of their conversation, I jotted down in my notes that these people don't seem very intelligent. They seemed to me like the stereotypical hicks of small town America. I'm not judging anybody in those places, I'm just trying to describe an archetype. But as the story moves along and more words come out of their mouths, their complexities are revealed. When Peter starts telling her why he's the way he is, he uses big words and seemingly well thought out concepts. Agnes asks, "Where'd you learn to talk like that?" Peter replies, "School." It's a good enough answer for Agnes. 

I mentioned that the film takes places in pretty much only the motel room. I was reminded of Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). Much like that film, the motel room starts out one particular place- a very average typical motel room. But by the end of the film it has transformed physically into a silver, blue lit cave of craziness and paranoia. 

The final scene of the film is all of the craziness coming together and it features some of the best dialogue and best acting I've seen in recent years. In Roger Ebert's review, he remarks, "The thing about "Bug" is that we're not scared for ourselves so much as for the characters in the movie. Judd and Shannon bravely cast all restraint aside and allow themselves to be seen as raw, terrified and mad." 

Friedkin's direction is subtle and effective. He uses color and lighting in way that reflects the characters' emotions. But he really lets the actors carry the film. I suspect that this is a film that will be rediscovered by future generations, who realize just how brilliant it is.

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