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DVD Released: 9/25/2007
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/22/2007
William Friedkin's 1973 film The Exorcist is considered by many to be one of the (if not the) scariest movies ever made. For some, it's scary because of the very graphic (and groundbreaking) special effects. Others find it frightening for more personal reasons, as their religious beliefs give them a particular view on the demonic possession in the film. With Bug, Friedkin returns to horror, but this film gives us a view of something which can be far scarier than projectile vomit or the fear of demons: insanity.
Ashley Judd stars in Bug as Agnes White, a honky-tonk waitress who lives in a shabby motel room. Agnes is a very depressed person, and she spends most of her time either drunk or high, not caring for herself or her hygiene. She lives in fear that her ex, Jerry (Harry Connick), will get out of prison and come find her. Her only friend is her co-worker R.C. (Lynn Collins). One night, R.C. brings a man named Peter (Michael Shannon, who was in the original play) to Agnes' room. Peter is quiet and shy, but seems to be a very polite and nice man. He is somewhat awkward around Agnes, and tells her that he is attracted to her. Stating that he's homeless, Agnes lets Peter sleep on her floor (which, to me, was the scariest part of the movie!). Much to Agnes' horror, Jerry arrives on her doorstep and immediately dismisses the seemingly meek Peter and threatens Agnes before he leaves again. That night, Peter finds a small bug in Agnes' bed. He then claims to see the bugs everywhere. Thus begins a descent into madness for both Peter and Agnes.
Bug tells an interesting story, as it presents us with what is essentially two distinct movies -- both of which can be considered horror movies to an extent. In the beginning, we are presented with Agnes and her depressing life. Agnes is clearly a sad and lonely person (she appears to be haunted by distressing memories). Agnes doesn't seem to bathe and her motel room is unkempt. In most scenes, she is either drinking or using drugs. She is tormented by her ex and her friend R.C. has her own issues and can't stay around to help Agnes. When Peter arrives, Agnes feels attached to him, despite the fact that he's a complete stranger. Agnes is so lonely and detached that she truly welcomes the company of this shy young man. This portion of the film is incredibly bleak and depressing, as we watch this woman living such a dismal life. We never know if Agnes was ever a dynamic person, but she's clearly someone whose spirit has been crushed and merely lives day to day.
But, as the 40-minute mark, the story changes. Peter finds a bug in Agnes' bed and begins to obsess about bugs. He becomes convinced that the room is full of bugs and he begins to drag Agnes into this world. At this point, Bug stops being a drama which portrays how far humans can sink and becomes a psychological thriller. Our view of Peter as an awkward, innocuous young man begins to change. But, things don't change for Agnes. Despite the fact that Peter's ideas seem very far-fetched, Agnes, racked by loneliness and substance abuse, still welcomes his presence. Bug begins to portray the many levels that madness and obsession that can occur and it doesn't pull any punches.
With The Exorcist, William Friedkin took the viewer into a world with unique, supernatural properties, where beds jump off of the floor and humans float. In contrast, he's shot Bug in an almost verite style. There is no high-style here, the camera merely records the events which unfold in the motel room. But, this doesn't mean that Bug is devoid of emotion -- it's quite the contrary. Due to this bare-bones style, everything in the movie is laid out on the table. We get an unflinching view of Agnes' world and once Peter arrives, we clearly observe his behavior (but not necessarily his thoughts). Ashley Judd gives an incredibly stark and brave performance here as she bares not only her soul, but her body as well. Agnes is a wounded person and we see this in Judd's haunted gaze. The problem with Bug is that it's too bleak and unrelenting. Is this really a bad thing? It certainly can be, as the movie contains no levity and no break from the layers of sad reality that it drops on the viewer.
When I watch a movie based on a play, I often wonder how it could have been a play in the first place. Movies from plays such asA Few Good Men show characters going to various locations which could have never been done on-stage. You won't get that vibe from Bug, as Friedkin has staged nearly all of the action in the motel room (which was presumably the setting of the play). Playwright Tracy Letts adapted his play for the screen and his dialogue is certainly impressive. With Bug, Friedkin proves that 33 years after The Exorcist, he can still create tension, without resorting to special effects. The story in Bug is tight and emotions run high. But, again, the film may be too dark and disturbing for its own good.
Bug swarms onto DVD courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. (IMDB.com lists the aspect ratio as 1.85:1.) The transfer is fairly solid, as the image is sharp and clear for the most part. The image doesn't leap out at you as demo quality, but it's not bad. There is some very mild grain to be had here, and detail is lacking in some of the shots. The image is stable however, and the odd lighting effects in the last reel don't create any video noise or blurring. Flesh tones look realistic and the colors are fine. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For the most part, this is a dialogue driven drama and these scenes sound fine, as there's no hissing or distortion. However, there are a few scenes in which stereo and surround effects are crucial and the track performs very well during those scenes. We also have some moments where a helicopter sound effect invades the track and this provides us with some nice subwoofer action.
The Bug contains a handful of extras. Director William Friedkin provides an AUDIO COMMENTARY, where he keeps things very simple. He describes the on-screen action by talking about the locations, sets, actors, and story. He gives us some insight into the background of the film and also hypothesizes on what it all means, but without giving away too much. "A Discussion with William Friedkin" is a 28-minute interview with Friedkin in which he doesn't talk about Bug. This may seem odd, but it's quite refreshing because that means that he doesn't rehash anything from his commentary. Here, he talks about his career, touching on specific films. He discusses his personal style and gives many theories about filmmaking. "Bug: An Introduction" (12 minutes) is a making-of featurette which includes comments from Friedkin and the cast, who discuss their characters and Friedkin's style.
Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long