Film Reviews

BUG

By • May 25th, 2007 •

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Judd gives her everything to this perfectly crawly psycho-conspiracy movie.

No one – remember when starved, elegant Nicole Kidman tried to play a janitor and then a Civil War Cold Mountain woman with a perfect coiffure, alabaster skin, and acrylic nails? – plays worn-down white trash like Ashley Judd. She gives everything she has here in a tour-de-force performance staged in a seedy motel room.

Judd has no scenery or sets to distract us from her descent into madness.

No false eyelashes for Judd or strategically placed camera work! I even spied a tiny hole in her T-shirt. And she has a nude scene. Finally a male actor actually behaves like a real man and walks around naked in a room after sex.

“Come here boy.” Agnes is a barmaid-recreational drug user whose lesbian girlfriend and co-worker R.C. (Lynn Collins) picks up a weird drifter, Peter (Michael Shannon). Agnes is lonely in her squalid room and since Peter has no place to go, she invites him to stay the night. He says he’s not into women.

Agnes is being harassed by constant phone calls she thinks are from her recently released brutal ex-boyfriend Jerry (Harry Connick Jr., bulked up and dangerous).

The next morning, after Peter spends the night sleeping on the floor and leaves to get some food, Jerry turns up. Seems their history runs deep and foul. Agnes confesses what happened between her and Jerry and the cause of her pain. When Peter returns, Jerry sizes him up with amusement and contempt. After Jerry leaves, Peter tells Agnes he thinks he could have sex with her. “Come here boy.”

They make love and Agnes likes the attention. Peter notices a bug in the bed and, as he keeps searching for what is biting him, goes into bug-killing mode.

When Agnes attempts to call the motel manager about the bug problem, Peter freaks out. He’s a wanted man. He was in the Army and was experimented on. He escaped an Army hospital. He believes – like past CIA experiments with LSD and The Tuskegee Syphilis and Plutonium Experiments on civilians by the U.S. military, and let’s not forget the dreaded MKULTRA mind control work (see the seminal 1969 work “Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psychocivilized Society” by Jose M.R. Delgado, M.D.) – he has been implanted with bugs that are feeding on his blood.

Agnes stops working, keeps drinking and free-basing, and with money from who-knows-where, Peter wallpapers the room in tin-foil and bug strips. Someone is indeed after Peter and he’s getting no relief from carving up his body looking for the bug queen who is laying millions of eggs in his body. Agnes starts feeling the bugs on her. Is she also part of the Army experiment gone awry?

Peter, intelligent and with a zealotry that envelopes wounded Agnes, might be (a) right, or (b) insane. Peter believes they are being watched by the Army researchers. The experiment has gone horribly wrong and he could infect everyone if not taken back to the hospital.

Who are the people after Peter, and are R.C. and Jerry in on it?

The screenplay by Tracy Letts (adapted from his Off-Broadway play) is psychologically vivid and smartly constructed. While the hallucinatory nature of Peter and Agnes’ decline strongly suggests a psychotic breakdown with reality, the door is ajar. I’d like to believe Peter was right. This is purely personal preference.

Judd dives deep into this role and she is a revelation. Giving so much of herself to this role of decadent abuse and ride into Crazytown, Judd is the vortex surrounding and enhancing Shannon and Connick. There’s enough physical horror and a clever grasp of aberrant psychology to make BUG a superior thriller. It is director William Friedkin’s return to what he does best: addressing the question – When is what you believe to be true not real?

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