Bug – William Friedkin – Based on Tracy Letts’ play (screenplay written by Letts), Bug unfolds in the dank claustrophobia of a single motel room. A wandering, decidedly neurotic (even before the madness begins to spiral) man named ‘Peter Evans’ (played by Michael Shannon) is introduced to the lonely figure of Agnes White (played by Ashley Judd). Thankful of his company, Agnes interprets Peter’s unhinged quirks through the vulnerable paranoia of her own past and it soon becomes clear that they are both encouraging a mutual collapse of sanity. Finding security in an unstable affinity for each other, mental fragility begins to entangle and unravel, becoming more and more dangerously divorced from reality.
Peter’s delusional belief that the government has planted ‘aphids’ in his skin as part of a sinister conspiracy begins to dominate the oppressive cell of their shared motel room. Convinced he has escaped the amorality of scientific experimentation he believes himself, and the room, to be infested…leading to growing measures of masochistic precaution. Both central performances by Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon are, to put it lightly, committed. Their insular relationship leads to a frighteningly intense embrace of conspiracy and paranoid nightmares- acted with unnerving believability. From the quick cut sequence of praying mantis/insect imagery after they have sex (connoting violent notions of the mantis’ copulating decapitation ritual, and a fear of contamination through penetrative entrance) to the feverish monologues of their climactic and elaborate madness (painfully uttered under the delusion of epiphany) – the film’s most arresting power resides in two phenomenally convincing – and unsettling - portrayals of collapsing sanity. The parallel nightmare that they construct, so intricately together, makes for a compellingly immersive experience. A disturbing drama masterfully controlled through Friedkin’s wise adherence to the cracked dialogue’s power. 8/10