A formerly A-list director… A formerly A-list leading lady… A soon to be A-list actor… A soon to be sought after screenwriter… I can see why this movie was under seen at the time. The biggest names could have been easily written off as well past their prime. And no one could have predicted the two unknowns would both be a big deal just a few years later. But these random ingredients all went together to make an amazingly interesting and original movie like nothing you’ve ever seen before, Bug.
Ashley Judd is Agnes, a waitress in a trashy bar who lives in a trashy motel. One night, she and workmate RC (Lynn Collins) bring Michael Shannon’s Peter back to Agnes’ room for a night of booze and cocaine. Peter stays the night, sleeping on the floor and making no advances. The next morning, Peter and Agnes are interrupted by a surprise visit from Jerry (Harry Conick Jr), Agens’ ex-husband who has just been released after two years in jail.
Not long after, Peter and Agnes realise each might just be the kind of support they need to help them through their lives. Both depressed and paranoid in different ways and to different degrees. The more reliant they become on each other, the more dangerous, and possibly delusional, that reliance seems to become for both.
Bug was made at in an interesting time in the careers of all the major players. Director William Friedkin was considered a genius film maker in the 70s with movies like The Exorcist and The French Connection. But the major bomb Sorcerer in 1977 had him on the ropes pretty much ever since. The only thing that stops Sorcerer reaching Heaven’s Gate levels of flop notoriety is the fact that we already have the actual Heaven’s Gate to fill that space.
Ashley Judd was a solid decade past her headlining days in second rate, yet box office smashing, crime thrillers like A Time to Kill and Kiss the Girls. Harry Conick Jr is a guy who has delivered plenty of consistent work over the years, but has never been able to quite break away from being seen as a singer who acts sometimes. And Michael Shannon was still half a decade away from his small screen breakthrough in Boardwalk Empire and big screen attention getter, Take Shelter.
Even screenwriter Tracy Lets, who had already found plenty of playwriting success, was having his first crack at being a screenwriter. Only a few years later, he’d also have screen credits for Killer Joe (also directed by Friedkin and the real start of Matthew McConaughey’s huge comeback of the last few years) and August: Osage County to his name.
Yet in 2009, these five people, all at amazingly different places in their careers, somehow came together to make this pretty amazing movie. Judd gives the kind of ego free, almost ugly performance that I can’t imagine she would have even considered in her marquee days of solving crazy crimes with Morgan Freeman. And as gripping as Michael Shannon was for me watching Bug in 2014, I can only imagine how intense it would have been eight years ago, if I was seeing him for the first time.
Like Judd and Shannon’s performances, Bug is ugly and intense. I can’t remember a movie making me squirm as much as this for a long time. It’s one of those movies that makes you uncomfortable and nervous, but you can’t look away. I can’t imagine wanting to watch Bug again anytime soon, but I do know I’ll be recommending it to anyone who hasn’t seen it before.