Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bug (2006)

Bug (William Friedkin, 2006)

A sweeping view of nowhere, America opens William Friedkin's terrifying Bug. Acres and acres of fallow land with the Rustic Hotel, a dilapidated highway-side abode, serving as the only recognizable landmark. One of the rooms of the hotel serves as the residence of Agnes (Ashley Judd), a waitress in a lesbian bar, and the primary setting for this claustrophobic pic. Random prank calls describe Agnes' nights ever since her husband (Harry Connick Jr.) was release from jail on parole. Her meager earnings (several coins and single dollar bills from tips) are spent on canned peas and bottles of vodka --- she's desperately lonely; and it seems that her loneliness pushes her to be subdued by men (first, her violent husband; and second, a weird newcomer with an quasi-innocent charm that consumes her curiosity).

The sweeping view will, little by little, be transformed as the film's atmosphere becomes delegated inside that motel room. Many things are happening. First, the mundane --- Agnes' husband's threats and unwelcomed visits, Agnes' traumatic loss of her son. Then, the unexplainable --- that uninhibited yet sure attraction towards Peter Evans (Michael Shannon), a mysterious drifter and war veteran; the imagined (or perhaps, real) invasion by microscopic blood-sucking aphids; the government experiments and conspiracy theories. It sucks you in into the mysteries that are piled to the point of unrecognition. By film's end, you forget the fallow land or that the room is part of that distant hotel in a slice of land in middle America; all that is real is the room, covered with aluminum foil. It's an implosion of everything that is wrong in America in that little room and within the frightening dynamics of the two main characters.

Friedkin gets it right this time. While the rest of the world are still caught in shock by Linda Blair's revolving head and spider walk in The Exorcist (1973), it is the thought-provoking, the less visceral that pumps up the intellectual horror of Bug. The film keeps itself in the undefinable middle between real and unreal. When Peter rambles about bug egg sacs and parasites with more than adequate knowledge, you fear for his sanity the way you distrust Norman Bates' infantile yet dangerous gestures; but it gets weirder, as the volatile Agnes joins in the game. Is it the bug infection that is contageous, or the paranoia itself?

The film's climax wherein Agnes cooks up a theory worthy of a Shyamalan twist (only in this case, it isn't what makes the film but what makes the horror much more twistedly palatable) while Peter excitedly welcomes an affirmation to the madness. Before the very flammable conclusion, Friedkin allows us to peek into his subjects once more --- this time, with very discomforting intimacy. He reveals these two specimens (Agnes and Peter start to resemble insects in a way that their paranoia breeds violence and fear, the same way cockroaches would pounce or run at an instance of any movement) bursting into self-destruction. It is damningly horrifying; but Friedkin makes it clearly theatrical as the over-the-top dramatics and production design erupt into clear and visceral insanity. He successfully creates a cinematic equal of death to avoid irritation, a voluntary shut-down for the levity against the world's worries.

Bug is a proper film in a contemporary society that feeds off films like Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) or Sicko (2007) for entertainment. It thrives in the post-9/11 world of isolation against the growing sense of connectivity brought about by technological advances. It is that paradox that nurtures nuts that devise theories and discontent that springs from exaggerated versions of the present corrupt reality. Just think about it, Peter and Agnes may be your everyday computer nerd exploring the net for verifications of pumped-up tales; and in so doing, amasses an army of like-minded followers. Now, that is horror.

But I'm probably overthinking. As it is, this is impeccable cinema, a near flawless translation of a successful play into a downright disturbing exploration of two persons whose destiny is to fall into insanity together. It's a choking experience the way everything is packed inside the walls of an ever-changing room, and the way the characters delegate their consciousness to bugs. The only breath of fresh air we get is that helicopter overview of the vast land that surrounds the motel; and thereafter, everything shrinks into that minuscule aluminum-covered cell and discussions of government-initiated plans to control the world.

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