Two confessions. I’m a sucker for a good government conspiracy. I’m paranoid about bugs that burrow under your skin. So admittedly Bug needed to do little to catch my attention.
Holding my attention, that is another matter. Any fool can spin a conspiracy yarn. Any fool can make a horror story about bugs. Many have tried. However, to make one in the same and to make them believable that takes some talent.
Scaled down to nearly one location, a seedy motel room, and with a limited cast of about 5 characters the film does exhibit some of its stage roots. Ashely Judd, who with the exception of Ruby in Paradise, I have previously found to be barely interesting, wonderfully plays the victim to Michael Shannon’s madness. Deceptively innocent, but utterly paranoid, Shannon is a Gulf War veteran on the lam. He comes across as an awkward man occassionally unloading tiny bits of conspiracy laden information only to pull back at the instance he feels he’s alarming or losing his victim. What follows is both terrifying and masterful and Shannon slyly carries the whole movie.
Playwrite Tracy Letts does a wonderful job of tossing out the right bait to weave together a grand conspiracy theory. UFO’s, the, Oklahoma City Bombings, the Gulf War, Bio-Terrorism, Letts does not create these things so much a collect redistribute them. Once the pieces have been laid out, the pace and tension of Bug accelerates to a destructive climax with the audience filling in the gaps as quickly as Ashely Judd’s character.
Director William Friedkin hasn’t been this masterful since The Exorcist and were you to stand these two films side by side, the similarities in pace and structure would be stricking. Yet, the films almost working as positive and negative of one another. The Exorcist creates a spiritual terror. Bug deals with science. The Catholic church is the institutional power represented in The Exorcist. In Bug it is the US government. The Exorcist rebuilds faith in the power of the divine. Bug attempts to destroy trust in the government.
Friedkin argues that Bug is not a horror film. He claims it could just as well be a romantic black comedy. I guess it depends on your sense of humor and just how paranoid of a person you are. In an age of speculation where all information can be perceived as misinformation, random bits of history and unsubstantiated facts can act as unnumbered dots to be connected in any order and form. The results become whatever you want to see.