Skip to main content

I am the Super Mother Bug!


Bug
(2006)

If his resumé is any evidence, it can’t be very nice living in William Friedkin’s head. Less uncomfortable, perhaps, during that brief period in the ‘70s when he married his murky obsessions with strong material. Since the ‘80s his script choices have been dependably erratic, but the odd commercial success (Rules of Engagement) has kept him working. His last couple of films have exemplified his strange fascinations, as characters in tawdry circumstances spiral off into crazed, over-cooked, theatricality.

One might argue that this is appropriate, as both Bug and Killer Joe are adapted from plays. But the effect on this viewer is to ultimately disengage from the story. Maybe the hyperbolic climaxes Friedkin thunders towards are designed to reveal that, actually, he’s really making comedies. I can see that Killer Joe’s finale could be construed that way, except that it’s the kind of queasy humour that requires one to see the funny side of being suspended upside down in a brimming cesspit. Friedkin just isn’t a funny guy; he’s much to literal to translate humour or nuance from the page. Why bother when repeatedly bludgeoning the same spot over 90 minutes will do? As a result, the cumulative effect of Bug is wearying rather than compelling or provocative.

Lonely Agnes (Ashley Judd) lives in the misleadingly-named Rustic Motel. She waitresses at a lesbian bar and consumes assorted narcotics with her co-worker R.C. (John Carter’s Lynne Collins). R.C. introduces Agnes to Peter (Michael Shannon), a disturbed veteran, and a tentative but increasingly claustrophobic relationship begins between the two of them. Meanwhile, Agnes’ abusive ex (Harry Connick Jr.) has been release from prison.

There’s little need to open out the play from its single location, and Friedkin sensibly restricts himself accordingly. In contrast, he leaves little to the imagination as the inclusive paranoia and isolation of Agnes and Peter grow. One can imagine how much of this would have been based solely on the performances as a stage play, as it’s all about inviting an audience to identify with the leads’ delusional states (Peter, in particular, is a part that invites absurd grandstanding, and the never-reticent Shannon bites the head off the role, then proceeds to heave bloody chunks of it over the screen throughout – sometimes literally). When Peter hears helicopters we don’t just hear helicopters too, the lighting changes accordingly; they’re outside, dammit!

This might work if there was ever any Polanski-esque uncertainty over whether the demons in Peter’s mind were that alone, but casting bug-eyed Shannon ensures there’s no chance. You know Peter will be climbing the walls before long within a minute of his introduction. Which is a shame, as there’s legitimate reason for Peter to be concerned over untoward military experimentation with his health and wellbeing (Gulf War Syndrome, etc). As it is, Peter is dismissed as a paranoid schizophrenic conspiracy nut, obsessed with the idea that he has been infected with tiny bugs and eager to fold every grand scheme he can think of into his fantasy.

Friedkin is similarly unsubtle with Agnes, highlighting her addiction issues early on (be it coke, crack or pot) so it’s very clear where her shifting lines of reality come from. Judd is very good, an underrated actress generally, but as the performers are pitched into the antic final act there is no place to go but OTT. The resulting sensation is one of watching little more than a misjudged amateur dramatics production.

I’m not sure much could have been done to prevent this without doing serious work on the structure of the piece. Certainly, the late-stage appearance of Dr. Sweet (Brian F. O’Byrne) does a little to offset the increasingly one-note crescendo of tone. But going any further in that direction would probably require a Jacob’s Ladder-esque shift in emphasis. There are a couple of shots on the end credits that appear designed to either provide answers (Agnes’ missing child) or add ambiguity (the fate of Dr. Sweet), but by that point you’re past caring.

I’ve seen it suggested that the film is too sophisticated for a mainstream audience. I’d argue that the reverse is true. I don’t think it’s the cup of tea of a wider crowd anyway, but Bug is relentlessly unsophisticated. It takes a hammer to crack a nut (or a bug) and ends up a victim to its own relentless histrionics.

**1/2

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

People still talk about Pandapocalypse 2002.

Turning Red (2022) (SPOILERS) Those wags at Pixar, eh? Yes, the most – actually, the only – impressive thing about Turning Red is the four-tiered wordplay of its title. Thirteen-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) finds herself turning into a large red panda at emotive moments. She is also, simultaneously, riding the crimson wave for the first time. Further, as a teenager, she characteristically suffers from acute embarrassment (mostly due to the actions of her domineering mother Ming Lee, voiced by Sandra Oh). And finally, of course, Turning Red can be seen diligently spreading communist doctrine left, right and centre. To any political sensibility tuning in to Disney+, basically (so ones with either considerable or zero resistance to woke). Take a guess which of these isn’t getting press in reference to the movie? And by a process of elimination is probably what it it’s really about (you know in the same way most Pixars, as far back as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc . can be given an insi

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

He's not in my pyjamas, is he?

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) (SPOILERS) By rights, Paul Mazursky’s swinging, post-flower-power-gen partner-swap movie ought to have aged terribly. So much of the era’s scene-specific fare has, particularly so when attempting to reflect its reverberations with any degree of serious intent. Perhaps it’s because Mazursky and co-writer Larry Tucker (also of The Monkees , Alex in Wonderland and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! ) maintain a wry distance from their characters’ endeavours, much more on the wavelength of Elliott Gould’s Ted than Robert Culp’s Bob; we know any pretensions towards uninhibited expression can’t end well, but we also know Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice have to learn the hard way.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998) An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar. Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins , and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch , in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whet

There is a war raging, and unless you pull your head out of the sand, you and I and about five billion other people are going to go the way of the dinosaur.

The X-Files 5.14: The Red and the Black The most noteworthy aspect of this two parter is that it almost – but not quite – causes me to reassess my previous position that the best arc episodes are those that avoid tackling the greater narrative head-on, attempting to advance the resistant behemoth. It may be less than scintillating as far as concepts go, but the alien resistance plot is set out quite clearly here, as are the responses to it from the main players.