The horror genre is in something of a rut. The East Asian nations churn out a macabre parade of gore-fests, only to be aped in the States a few years later.
Each Hollywood incarnation is a poor facsimile of the last, whether it's copying the East, its own classic from the heyday of horror, or the seemingly inevitable sequel. It's enough to make you want to gouge your eyes out. But with William Friedkin as its director, Bug promises to be a horror flick of a higher breed.
Not that the marketers would want you to know that. Bug is packaged as if it's a typical horror flick, its posters indistinct from its gory cousins, pronouncing quite prominently that it's made by the director of The Exorcist. However, whereas in Exorcist Friedkin quite effectively strums the nerves of its time, here with an equally instinctual fear he only manages to elicit pity, even disgust, at the (possibly self-inflicted) suffering of his subjects.
Our protagonist Agnes (Judd)-a hard-drinking, dope-smoking Joan Jett-type waitress-spirals into spectacular depths of delusion when she follows her companion Peter (Shannon), a misfit drifter, down the rabbit-hole of psychoses.
Peter, whom Agnes takes on as her lover seemingly out of pity, appears to be a harmless loner. His paranoia is at first quirky-charming even. But as he reveals his belief that he is infected by bugs as a subject of a military experiment to control the general populace, the character grows increasingly disturbing. And his paranoia proves extremely infectious. Now, however, five years into America's misadventure in Iraq, our suspicion of the US government can no longer takes the form of Big Brother: It's unimaginable that its military could carry out any degree of planning to manage a population, let alone a colony of bugs.
The film's sparse setting and tight cast belies the source of the material, an off-Broadway play that attained considerable accolades. Indeed, many scenes are conceivably more enthralling on stage. Bug is no shoddy project when it comes to performances. Here, scantily clad nymphets screaming won't suffice. Instead, we are treated to acting of an impressive caliber. Likewise, Friedkin manages the cinematography adeptly, using the cramped set to his advantage.
With a concession to the horror genre, we are provided with a few worthy scenes of skin-crawling dread, even stomach-turning violence quite popular with the genre's adherents. But Bug would be far more successful if it trod more effectively the line between the psychoses of its characters and the credibility of their crazed imaginings. Instead, from fairly early on, the viewer is left with the notion that the characters are clearly psychotic. What's worse, not only does Friedkin do a terrible job of convincing us of the cockamamie scenario presented by Peter, he does a terrible job of making credible the pair's descent from the maladjusted, odd couple to outright nutcases.
It's a shame because, for a couple of chills, we would generally be happy to go
Director: William Friedkin.
Cast: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick, Jr, 2007. R. 102 min.