Pop-pop wasn’t kidding when he said, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite”.
Hiding out in a scuzzy motel on the side of a highway, Agnes White (Ashley Judd) waits for the day that her ex-husband (Harry Connick Jr.) gets out of jail, find out where she’s been hiding away from him for all of these years and practically go back to ruining her life like he always used to. This obviously has been implanted into Agnes’ mind so much that she practically shields herself off from the rest of the world only to where she works, makes money, pays the bills, do a little bit of drugs, get drunk and continue living her life the way she has been, all by herself and with nobody else there to share her life with. This begins to take a toll on her, so when her bestie from work (Lynn Collins) brings in a mysterious drifter she just met that night (Michael Shannon), over to get acquainted with, Agnes does not, cannot say “no”. She invites him in and although there are certain reservations to be had in the beginning, the two eventually hit it off and become something of a couple. But something strange happens after this guy gets bitten by a bug, and soon infects Agnes, leading them to both think that whatever it is that they have, is deadly, dangerous and caused by people who are very powerful.
Though that premise (as well as that poster to the left) may have you thinking that this is some sort of creature-feature, horror-flick directed by somebody like David Cronenberg or Rob Zombie, don’t worry, because it’s very far from. Well, let me be exact: There is some blood, there is some gore and there is some hacking-off of limbs, but it’s not done in the type of way in which you expect to see from most horror movies. Rather, everything that happens in this movie is less about getting an “ooh” response out of you, and more of an “oh”.
Yeah, it’s that type of movie.
In case you didn’t know, William Friedkin adapted this from a Tracy Letts stage play and while some people don’t usually like when that sort of thing happens, I don’t mind it a bit. In fact, I want more of them, especially if they’re going to be done by William Friedkin! With this type of story, you already get a sense that you, as well as the characters themselves, are already boxed in to a world that they can’t get out of, so when you see that this whole movie is practically confined to just staying in this one hotel room, the whole hour-and-a-half, it makes sense. It doesn’t feel like a conceit that Friedkin himself pulled off because he’s a witty mofo, or that the studio didn’t give them enough money to begin with, so they had to do whatever they could, with whatever resources they had at their disposal. And for those reasons, this movie is quite effective.
Most of that is thanks to Letts already amazing source-material, and most of it is thanks to Friedkin himself for not ever allowing this movie to fly off of its hinges. Usually, whenever a director gets a movie where the setting rarely changes and just stays-put in one spot, they usually tend to play around a bit, peek their head out and see if they can bring other aspects of the story into play, just so that they can assure that viewers won’t start to nod off, or get bored of seeing the same damn people, in the same damn room, possibly doing the same thing. It makes sense, but it also feels like a cheap trick that some directors like to pull. William Friedkin is not one of those type of directors and instead, he keeps his story small, tight and always on-track with what it’s trying to say, where it’s trying to go and exactly why it’s doing all of the crazy shite that it’s doing.
And trust me, once you get to the last-act or so, you’re going to totally wonder why it is that these two people are freaking out so much about a bugs eating their flesh. It may sound crazy, it may sound over-the-top and it may sound like something you’d see in a B-movie, late at night on SyFy, but nope, Friedkin actually has you believe that these people may be infected, but also, at the same time, maybe not. And if they aren’t actually infected by these flesh-eating bugs, then you understand why; but if they are, then you also understand why for that part of the story as well. So basically, both sides of this story, whether it be real or fiction, works well and it keeps you guessing for a long while, especially since Friedkin continues to ramp-up the suspense of not knowing just what the hell type of stunt these crazy fools are going to pull next.
But like I was saying before, most of these stage-adaptations live and die from the directors working on them, but the same should definitely be said for the actors in each and every one of these roles, no matter how small or big they may be. If they fail, the movie fails, so there’s a lot of pressure on them as it is. Which is why this cast is so good.
Judd’s never been known as the type of actress to really stretch herself beyond her reach, nor really light the world on fire, but she’s always had a charming enough screen-presence to where you never understand why it is that she ever was a big name, or why her name’s constantly showing up in the head-lines whenever she has some message to make about poorer countries. She’s never really reached out to me as anything special, but I was willing to be surprised by her talent and that is exactly what I got here with her performance as Agnes White, one of the saddest female characters I’ve seen in awhile. What works so well for Agnes is that while she may be a bit of a loner that doesn’t really hang out with too many people, or care to even, she still seems like a likable enough gal to where you would want to hang around her, even if you do know she comes from a troubled-past.
That’s why when this random guy walks into her life, makes sweet, sweet love with her, starts to fall in love with her and practically tell her that she’s infected with a flesh-eating bug that could kill her soon if she doesn’t act now, it all makes sense in the grander scheme of things. The writing supports that claim, but so does Judd’s amazing performance in showing us a real battered and beaten woman who won’t take any more shit from men, but is willing to compromise just for this one, all because it’s the first time in a long time for her, and she doesn’t want to be left alone. So, rather than feeling like she’s a big dummy for falling head-over-heels for this nutty guy and listening to every word he speaks, you actually sympathize with her and hope she can be happy, still be in love and ultimately, find whatever it is that she’s looking for. Judd goes balls-deep with this performance and bares all in a way we haven’t seen from her before, and she surprised the heck out of me. Shame she hasn’t really done anything more challenging or strange since this, but who knows? Maybe she’ll be back to go crazy all over again? You never know!
Although, I can’t say the same for Michael Shannon because I think we all know him pretty well by now to where we’ll continue to see him play these nutty characters, and there won’t have a problem with that. Why? Well, it’s because the guy’s so good at playing-up a character’s sheer insanity, while also giving them a bit of a human-compound as well, to where you are actually seeing a crazy human being, and not just a crazy person, if there is any difference to begin with. He’s great here as the mysterious guy that Agnes hooks up with one night, but I feel like that was practically expected, considering that he’s portrayed the character numerous times on stage, so it was sort of like a free-bee, if there ever was one with a film role. That’s not to discredit the work that he does here at all, but it just goes to show you that obviously, whatever it was that he did on the stage, must have been impressive enough to land him the role in the theatrical-release of it.
And in the middle of all this craziness, there’s Harry Connick Jr. playing the scummy, mean and cruel ex-husband of Agnes, and he’s pretty damn good. He looks the part of an ex-con, he sounds the part of an ex-con and he also makes you believe that if you mess with him the wrong way, he won’t be afraid to mess you up right back. Corny as it sounds, it works well for his screen-presence and it comes off less like one of those performances where a really good-looking, mainstream actor tries to go for the gritty, bleak role in an indie; much rather, he seems like he was made for a role like this. Somehow, someway, Harry Connick Jr. works in a movie directed by William Friedkin, aka, this guy. Yeah, think about that for a little while.
Consensus: May be a bit too strange and over-the-top for the casual viewer, but for anybody else who may be at all interested in seeing what Bug has to offer that’s more than just what looks to be a bunch of gross-out sequences and jump-scares, then please do give it a look because it’s very far from being that at all.
8 / 10 = Matinee!!