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By Admin | May 29, 2007

“Bug” is the latest film from William Friedkin, the mastermind behind such directorial masterpieces as “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist.” As you may note from that rundown of his former films, they’re old and the list is short. 1985’s “To Live and Die in L.A.” also belongs on the highlights list but it’s not quite as memorable as the aforementioned films. That being said, I admire Friedkin and love the way he places and uses the camera. Aside from Roman Polanski, he may very well be my go-to-guy when I want to learn a little somethin’ somethin’ about directing. Which bring us to Friedkin’s latest effort, “Bug.”

Taking place almost entirely in a skuzzy motel room, “Bug” tells the story of lonely substance abuser Agnes (Judd) who stays holed up in her room, smoking drugs and drinking all in an effort to suppress some seriously intense emotional damage. Her phone rings all through the day and when she answers it, no one’s there but she suspects it’s ex-husband Jerry (Connick Jr.) who was just released from prison. Soon Agnes meets fellow lonely heart Peter (Shannon) and the two hit it off albeit tenuously at first. Peter doesn’t talk much and Agnes is just so damned lonely, she’ll open up to anyone who will listen. Before long the two are inseparable, but something’s amiss. Peter believes he’s infected with tiny bugs under his skin, planted there by the government in an attempt at mind control.

Now when you mix drugs, loneliness and paranoia the effects aren’t usually too healthy but they can sure be entertaining as is the case here. Ashley Judd reminds everyone that she actually can act and Michael Shannon does a nice job as Peter. He plays him awkwardly and somewhat creepily, but you still are kind of rooting for him. Or at least hoping he’s not as insane as he seems and that Agnes can bring him out of his nuttiness. Such is not the case and as the film marches on, Agnes and Peter fall deeper into a massive paranoid delusion and they begin to sink faster than the Titanic. However as their descent reaches it’s apex, the film starts to get really campy and far too over-the-top. I still enjoyed “Bug,” but the dramatic turns at the tail end of the film are far more histrionic than say, emotionally intense. Plus this film is based on a play and although Friedkin does a great job giving movement within a tight space, there’s certain scenes that seem stagey.

Speaking of which, “Bug” is a nice textbook on how to use the camera in a confined space. I love how he sets up the tension early on before we move almost entirely into the motel. Friedkin also isn’t afraid to pull focus and use that really cool 70’s technique where there’s a jarring zoom in on a character or set piece. I miss those camera moves and when they’re used properly and seamlessly, as they are here, they give a certain sense of nostalgia mixed with cinematic insight to characters. Although I kind of loved the film in the way only a cinema nerd can, I’m also keenly aware of it’s shortcomings. Thus, it’s a tough one to recommend to everyone. Just know now this isn’t a horror film as they’re making it out to be nor is it a true return to form for Friedkin. Even so, it’s worth seeing but perhaps as a DVD rental further down the road.

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