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Bug: disturbing but brilliant

Sharon and I spent a couple hours tonight watching the paranoia-fueled 2006 Ashley Judd film, Bug. Brilliant writing, excellent performances, and strong, creative direction from William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection), but this is not a film to watch alone in the dark.

Judd, looking very plain in this film, plays a lonely, damaged woman named Agnes who lives in a dingy Oklahoma motel, works in a honky-tonk, and self-medicates the pain of an abusive relationship and a lost child.

One night, she meets Peter, a quirky drifter played by the intense and compelling Michael Shannon, and the two quickly slide into a destructive spiral of fear. The two are convinced that insects are crawling under their skin, a government experiment gone awry, and the two are soon surrounded by bug zappers, fly paper, and sharp implements for digging the annoying bugs — which, apparently, no one else can see — out of their flesh.

Screenwriter Tracy Letts, who adapted his own stage play for this film, leaves enough ambiguity in the script to leave the viewer wondering just how crazy Agnes and Peter really were. Letts throws in references to a potpourri of conspiracy staples like the Bilderberg group, Area 51, government mind-control experiments, and the Oklahoma City bombing (“John Doe #2”) in a way that implies that only the mentally unbalanced really believe in any of those things.

And yet, the doctor who shows up looking for Peter knows more than we would expect about Agnes and her troubled past. How does he come by this knowledge? Did Peter and Agnes meet by accident? Were the bugs even real?

These questions are left unanswered. Viewers who saw this movie based on the TV ads back in 2006, expecting a horror film featuring man-eating insects, were no doubt disappointed. However, if you’re looking for a dark, intense, thought-provoking movie that you’ll want to see again, then Bug is recommended.

Note: strong language, some nudity and sexual situations.

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