I was wandering around the internet late one night when I stumbled across a psychological mind bender called BUG (2006) and to my pleasant surprise learned it was directed by William Friedkin aka the director of THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) and THE EXORCIST (1973). I was immediately sold. Now fasten your seat belts, put your thinking caps on this one is a jolt twister that might make your nose bleed. I might have blown that up a tad too much, nevertheless prepare yourself for a “WTF” moment.
BUG takes places in a rundown Oklahoma town primarily in a shady, dusty looking motel where Agnes (Ashley Judd) is scraping by day to day life alone working as a waitress mostly keeping to herself when she meets Peter (Michael Shannon) a mysterious somewhat muted, paranoid drifter. The two develop a friendship which turns into a romance twisting the plot down into an infestation of bugs which becomes the catalyst of blurring the lines between delusion and reality.
The opening shot of this film is an unusual one in that it’s somewhat of a bird ‘s eye view pushing its way to the exterior of the motel where we emerge into the interior of the room as Agnes picks up a ringing phone to hear static on the other end. I thought it was interesting in comparison of Friedkin’s opening shots in THE EXORCIST and THE FRENCH CONNECTION. He either chooses to push the camera in or pull it out in his establishing shots always at a wide angle. Just a technical observation there.
The story is actually adapted from a play written by Tracy Letts that premiered in 1996 initially in London at the Gate Theatre where Michael Shannon also played the character Peter. Shannon’s performance is the heart of the story because at one point I was absolutely caught up in how compelling he is in telling his story about being experimented on by the U.S. military. It doesn’t help he has dashing blue eyes, a prominent jaw line, illuminating of pure obscurity. I guess it just adds a layer of enigmatic depth to his character. Aside from that there’s a scene where he comes trotting back to Agnes after being unable to explain to her why he’s paranoid about letting anyone spray the room for bugs when insisting he could do it himself. As Agnes is leaning against the bathroom door, Peter is on the other end confessing everything to her and even though the viewer doesn’t see him, the tone in his voice emphasizes the desperation and horror he holds within. The expression on Agnes’s face brings out this empathic, nearly maternal instinct to care and protect this wounded soul.
From this juncture the verisimilitude of the narrative spins miraculously into how I imagine crack addicts interpret reality. Paranoia and delusion exasperate these two characters and for a brief moment I wanted to believe them because it’s extraordinary how a simple lie can expand into a fictitious truth and run amuck destroying everything in it’s pathway. A simple idea can fester into some irrational justification for means of taking action such taking a person’s life on the basis of eliminating a threat. As Peter believes these microscopic “bugs” infesting their motel room, are the reason for the downfall of everything the government is attempting to control over the population, world religion, politics, wealth is perplexing and probably the holy grail for conspiracy theorists. It makes you lean back and think, “huh” is that even feasible?
It goes as far as Peter taking a pair of pliers to yank out his own tooth convinced the government planted an egg sac of bugs beneath it in order to find and control him. The paranoia spirals radically as Agnes also embraces the madness much like the circumstantial infestation of bugs that’s also invaded Peter. These two dingbats are explicitly convinced in order to infiltrate the “bugs” is to extinguish them entirely. Now prior to all this was a highly claustrophobic love scene with extreme close ups of Agnes and Peter drenched in sweat which is how the bugs allegedly transpired and yet we never really see these bugs except for in brief cutaways of a microscopic slide of bugs worming around.
What’s even more riveting is the impassioned monologue Peter gives to Agnes at the climax rambling on the beginnings of the Bilderberg Group’s foundation allegedly conspiring to control the world at a status quo pace. I had to pause the film at several points because it was an avalanche of material that if you blinked or didn’t concentrate hard enough you would miss everything in detail sputtering out of him like it was some numerical sequence that would miraculously open up the gateway to answers. Nope not really, and in attempting to untangle this maddening monologue that began with the Bilderberg group, to Jim Jones being a CIA operative, the People’s Temple being test subjects, to John Doe #2 and Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma bombing you have to really crack open a set of historical events to get a grasp of what the hell he was rambling about. Meaning, I had to Google every two minutes to catch up and it’s astounding the amount of data flying around which made me question my own sense of reality based on the facts actuality or is it all a complete fabrication? It’s deeply disturbing madness that sucked the life force out of me. I had to later take a walk outside in some sunshine while drinking some tea to resume clarity.
The disturbing beauty behind Friedkin’s ability to make the viewer feel claustrophobic and confused is with the continuous diegetic sound of helicopter blades while cutting to a ceiling fan enforces the paranoia and delusion. What’s equally important is the juxtaposition of wide angle exterior shots making it seem as if someone’s peering inside the motel room imposes an unsettling presence almost dragging the audience into the insanity. But you also have to ask yourself are these characters paranoid schizophrenics because their meth addicts even though Friedkin throws in some close up shots of cocaine to intentionally throw you off to question reality all together? It’s freaking affective whatever it is he’s doing and I highly believe the theatrical play would be wildly intense to see. View this movie at your own risk, preserve your sanity by all means, I need to go watch some Disney movies to shake this one off. My head hurts.
“ I AM THE SUPER MOTHER BUG!!”