Reel Opinions

Saturday, May 26, 2007


As I was sitting in my seat, watching the ending credits for Bug, one of the theater workers cleaning up the theater asked me what I thought of the movie. I had to give him an honest opinion, and the only thing that came to mind was "I don't know". By all accounts, Bug is a fascinating glimpse at two people's descent into madness. And yet, at the same time, the movie never truly connects the way I think it should. The film is based on a stage play, and I can see the idea working there. In the intimacy of the theater, we feel a personal connection with the actors performing right in front of us. But on the big screen, the story it tries to tell doesn't come to life the way it keeps on promising too. When it was over, the main thing I found myself concerned about was not the characters themselves, but wondering where the heck they got so much tinfoil as to cover every square inch and nearly every piece of furniture.

Ashley Judd plays Agnes White, a down on her luck waitress at a redneck bar who has been living in a seedy motel the past couple months. When she starts receiving many mysterious phone calls where the person on the other line never says anything, she's almost certain that it's her ex-husband Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr), who recently got out of prison, harassing her. Agnes is a lonely and broken down woman, so it's no big surprise that she invites Peter Evans (Michael Shannon) to spend the night with her after the two hit it off. Peter is a highly paranoid man who believes that he has carnivorous insects inside him feeding off his blood. It's supposedly some sort of military conspiracy, according to him. As the two spend more time together, Agnes is drawn into Peter's deranged fantasies. Before too long, they've covered the entire room with tinfoil in order to "block the signal" the bugs are supposedly transmitting, and are cutting themselves up as they hunt for imaginary egg sacks underneath their skin.

In adapting his own play for the screen, writer Tracy Letts stays mainly faithful to the material's original roots. The film does not venture outside of the motel room very often, except for a couple of establishing shots. Director William Friedkin (The Exorcist) uses his claustrophobic environment to his advantage to give us a conspiracy thriller that seems to constantly be on the verge of hitting the target, but never quite does. That's because the movie is bombastic and overwrought when it should be subtle and eerie. Ashley and Peter's descent into madness should be slow and calculating, but Ashley seems far too willing and eager to go right into the madness with Peter. We know that she's a lonely and battered woman, and that she's desperate for companionship, but I think this movie is pushing it by not having her question him or what she's getting into enough. When the two are shown in their full stages of madness, Judd and Shannon play their performances at full pitch, as if they are yelling their lines to the audience members up in the cheap seats of the balcony. Needless to say, magnified by a movie theater's sound system, their shrieking lines quickly grow tiresome.

For a movie that wants to get under our skin, Bug never quite digs deep enough. We know that Peter is crazy and that Ashley is slowly being brainwashed and following right along with him, but we never get the deep personal connection between the two in order for us to believe all of it. They just come across as two people that we care very little about. This is fatal for the kind of story this film wants to tell. We're supposed to feel the connection between them, and be terrified by the road their relationship brings them down. We never know enough about them in order to be truly terrified. We're not watching the characters going crazy, we're watching two actors in a motel room acting like they're going crazy. By the time they've covered their surroundings with what looks like thousands of dollars worth of tinfoil, the movie had lost me. I wanted it to have captured my interest and taken me on a journey along with these two possibly intriguing characters, but it's content to simply skim the surface. The conclusion that the film leads to is relentlessly dark, but it doesn't have the effect I think it was supposed to, because we don't feel for the characters. With more developed characters, the ending could have been a knock out.
There's nothing wrong with Bug that a more detailed look into the characters could have fixed. I wanted to see more of what brought Ashley and Peter together, not just loneliness or needing someone. That's not enough to convince me that these people are so willing to hop aboard the "crazy train" and start carving themselves up, looking for insects. The movie gives us plenty of psychological horror, but the personalities that are supposed to drive that horror are missing. By the time it was done, I was intrigued by a lot of what I had seen, but ultimately felt unfulfilled. There's a great movie here, all it needs is a screenplay that cares about the characters.



Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger