In the years since the cultural flashpoint of The Exorcist, director William Friedkin’s return trips to the genre have been minimal, with only the ill-received The Guardian and a pretty nifty episode of the ‘80s version of The Twilight Zone (Nightcrawlers) representing. But with the ghastly psychological horror of Bug, it’s as though the past 30-odd years were just a breather.
Agnes (Ashley Judd) is an aging lost soul caught in a weekly-rate rat-trap in rural Oklahoma, one of those fading sorts who have spent way too much of their lives working part-time in the bar culture, using their meager wages to get by and then their tips on booze, smokes and whatever else they need to soften the teeth of the trap. Every night is just another bleak night in the cycle, until an after-hours visit from a co-worker drops an affable drifter (Michael Shannon) into her lap. The guy is a bit off, but after a while she begins to warm to him. Next thing you know they’re exchanging fluids, which is generally a bad idea … but in this case, it’s a seriously bad idea.
To explain any further would be a disservice because, well … because the film never explicitly states what the hell is going on. Whether it’s operating on an allegorical level, or it’s just an orgy of unconnected metaphors is left to the viewer’s interpretation.
But it most definitely gets under your skin (I’m sure that’ll be a recurring line in most of the positive reviews). It stays close to its off-Broadway stage roots (it’s based on the play by Tracy Letts), so if you don’t like theater, Bug is probably a bit too stagey. Although as a play, the dialogue carries the show, and so it’s a nice change of pace to have every word seeming to be carefully thought-out.
And while the vérité of the piece is admirable, at times it seems a little bit too much like a cinematic Rorschach inkblot (re: the writer). I get the vibe that Letts may have spent time in the milieu for more than just research.
I’m also impressed by Judd. There are more than a few seriously unflattering shots of her throughout, but damn, she grabs on to the role and shakes it like a terrier on a rat.