The Sign Outside Does Not Say Possibility of Vacancies: Bug (2006)

I will navigate toward a film if it involves a variety of things, some of these include specific details like the acting of Michael Shannon, or the incredibly engaging post-structuralist cinematic leanings of William Friedkin.  In more general terms I am always intrigued by a film that decidedly limits itself in terms of cinematic space or revitalizes what one would assume to be a genre focus that has been wrung dry of any critical possibilities.  Imagine by elation when I discovered that all of these elements were on play simultaneously in the 2006 film Bug, which for a variety of different reasons appears to have come and went with little to no flair, despite it being a rather stellar work in not only the genre of horror-thriller, but also a rather well-executed exercise in narrative filmmaking that works within a linear framework, but still manages to reject any degree of normalcy.  I would even boldly assert that while, Friedkin has always been one to push the cinematic narrative conventions within the real of traditional industry filmmaking, Bug is a work fully entrenched within the experimental and to a degree the avant garde.  Perhaps this films  biggest injustice was its being marketed as a horror film, something that is, undoubtedly, true about its existence and is certainly what led me to engaging with it in the first place, only barely making the cut for inclusion this month, but it is so much more that simply a genre piece with well-delivered elements.  Friedkin's Bug is a very thought out and pin-pointed working of the cinematic tool and its ability to capture the human psyche, particularly one whose fracturing extend not only outside a singular body, but might even occupy multiple versions of self-hood within even a single extension.  Friedkin's film makes sure not to flail about with some of the traditional narrative establishment elements, instead choosing focus his time on the hyper-specific elements of his two main characters, resulting in allowing Michael Shannon to shine, as is usually the case, however, much to my surprise, once the usually underwhelming Ashley Judd does find her footing within this film she manages to exude her own very respectable performance, culminating in a film whose veneer is so thin that realizing one is watching a revolution in cinema practices unfold is only one of its many fantastic elements.

Bug centers on the character of Agnes White (Ashley Judd) an apparently down and out on her luck woman who has holed herself up in the walls of a motel room, avoiding the calls from her recently paroled ex-husband by engaging in heavy consumption of alcohol and self-medication through a lethal cocktail of various pills and narcotics.  While visiting a friend at her job one night, she tangentially meets Peter Evans (Michael Shannon) a ex-military soldier who is considerably soft spoken, but, nonetheless, quite nice to Agnes who takes a quick liking to his simple earnestness.  After an string of incredibly open discussion about their pasts and personal opinions Agnes invites Peter to stay in her place, if only for a non-platonic comforting figure, a notion that seems to parallel Peter's own desires as he ends up spending the night sleeping on the floor at the foot of Agnes' bed.  When Agnes awakes she discovers, not Peter, but her ex-husband Jerry (Harry Connick Jr.) in her house she panics, but again the reemergence of Peter seems to save the situation, his calm attitude diffusing the situation with Jerry. It is not long after this encounter, however, that it becomes clear that Peter might not be as well of as it would suggest, admitting to paranoia surrounding being bitten by bugs, after the two awake during a bed bug attack after a night of intercourse.  What begins as an innocent consideration of a person who is really picky about what things touch his skin, unfolds into something far more complex as Agnes realizes Peter is deeply invested in notions of conspiracy theory and his own body being a vessel of experimentation for the American government, causing him to begin invasion proofing the house with a combination of insect killers and eventually lining the place with aluminum foil, even going so far as to attack a man claiming to be an advisor to him when he was allegedly in a mental hospital, this reaction part of what Peter believes to be a larger conspiracy.  After the murder of this man, Peter questions the loyalty of Agnes one last time, before the two complete an ultimate cleansing from the invasion of bugs, in that they burn the room down, self-immulating themselves in the process.  A snippet in the middle of the credits, however, suggest that a world of normalcy exists somewhere after the plot has ended, perhaps even the possibility that nothing truly occurred in the first place.

I cannot even begin to fathom what I might consider in terms of the critical theories and themes running throughout this movie.  There are the obvious approaches which consider the film for its varied and violent depictions of a particular sect of paranoid schizophrenics whose fears lead to layers of self-mutilation that in its most intense forms extends onto other posies. A sort of Münchausen by proxy in an extreme cinematic form.  Another reading could also look at the ways in which this segments the body horror film into a very small space, looking at two individuals personal identity struggles and the ways in which the outside world is infesting its demands and purportedly "ideal" way of existing upon them, while they react in an allergic and grotesque way.  I could also attempt to tackle the psycho-sexual issues at play in this film, particularly those considering the paternal and maternal in relation to a lost youth or childhood.  All of this is working within Friedkin's Bug and to great success I might add.  Where I think another narrative might emerge is that the film also carries a degree of addiction narrative about it, both in regards to Agnes and Peter, who seem to constantly be either consuming or injecting things into their bodies that are far from healthy, each shade deeper on this scale resulting in their falling apart as humans in very real and tangible ways.  For Peter his decaying is in a much more psychological way, although this fracturing from reality also leads him to remove teeth from his mouth again also a possible result of unseen drug use.  Agnes' own fractured identity as a result of addiction seems somewhat more apparent beginning with her blatant alcoholism and her deep depression induced at the reminder of losing a child, although its factuality is always up for debate, perhaps being a direct result of her alcoholism in the first place.  The narrative, as such, becomes an issue of two addicts coming together and feeding off one anothers' drive to destroy, ultimately, doing so not only to bodies that are completely healthy and trying to help, but to their very space of living, as if to break from the confines of existence itself.

Key Scene:  Michael Shannon and teeth.  Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd talking about variants of insects.  Michael Shannon doing anything.

This is a cheap enough DVD to buy, I assure you it is worth the minimal investment.

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