Wide World of Horror: ‘Bug’
Written by Tracy Letts
Directed by William Friedkin
Most people upon watching William Friedkin’s 2006 effort will undoubtedly want to talk about the insanity or claustrophobia of the film. Those are rabbit holes that are well worth chasing, but they are secondary to the greatest strength of the picture. Bug is a film with many strengths, but there is one elements that stands out as the strongest of them all.
Awkwardness is not always easy to get across on film, as it too often is cute or off putting. Creating an awkward atmosphere can, and often does, polarize an audience. It affects some and it fails to affect others because of the aforementioned off putting feeling or cute presentation. What Mr. Friedkin and company have managed to do in Bug is create the most awkward of situations that feel real and earned.
The awkwardness is accomplished through the manic actions of the characters set against recognizable scenarios. We’ve all seen the romantic moment in a movie where a girl rocks back and forth on a swing while the guy falls for her. That moment is presented in Bug, but it is subverted through a veneer of awkwardness. Throughout the film familiar situations are presented to the viewer but they always end up coming across as awkward. When are two leads have sex it isn’t the least bit sexy, rather it is odd and unsettling. Camera tricks aren’t the key to achieving the awkward tone of Bug, it is the subversion of familiar settings and tropes by the smart usage of the manic side of the main characters that is instrumental to the awkwardness of the film.
The pace could have broken Bug, but instead it bolsters the entirety of the film. There are eddies and swells within the film. The pace is just as important to the tone of awkwardness found in Bug as the score, the acting, and the lighting are. The film appears slow on first glance but in reality it is far from slow. There are moments of quiet that are interrupted by loud explosions of fury and intensity. The quiet moments work alongside the intense ones. They don’t truly belong together, yet they work because of the fact that they don’t belong together.
It would be remiss to not mention the performances of Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon. They are manic, they are disturbed, but they are believable. It’s never made explicitly clear what happens during the course of the film. Or at least it’s never made explicitly clear what the truth is of what happens during the course of the film. The acting relies on this, as the acting informs the inaccuracies of the reality the camera presents to us. Miss Judd and Mr. Shannon give their all in every moment of Bug. Without them it’s hard to think of the type of picture Bug would have ended up being. But, they are in the film, and they own the screen every second that the camera is focused on them.
Up to this point there’s been nary a mention of the horror aspects of Bug. But that’s not true because everything that has been mentioned makes up the horrific nature of the film. The awkwardness, the tone, the acting, and every element that went into the picture make up the horror of Bug. Mr. Friedkin’s picture is the sum of its parts and its parts are all equally horrific. The horror found in Bug is unique, and if you’ll pardon the pun, the horror in Bug is the type of horror that burrows its way under your skin and bursts out in the most shocking of ways.
The old vanguards of horror have let the film world down of late. John Carpenter, Dario Argento, and George R. Romero, to name but a few, have failed to adapt with the times and produce quality work. William Friedkin is not thought of as a horror director, but Bug proves that he sure as heck should be. Not only that, Bug shows that Mr. Friedkin isn’t slowing down with age. He is adapting, changing, and continuing to produce films that are thought provoking while still being of a higher quality. With Bug Mr. Friedkin has produced an irritant that won’t go away. He has produced a horror film that refuses to play it safe, and that’s why Bug is a special horror film that needs to be seen by more people.
– Bill Thompson