At a run-down motel on the highway in the middle of nowhere, a white trash gal, Agnes (Ashley Judd), is busy re-lighting one cigarette butt after another. She's been getting heavy-breather phone calls from she thinks she knows who, her ex-husband Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr.), a dangerous man just out of prison after serving two years.
The isolated setting for Bug (2006) is by itself freaky & scary, but there's also something of the Romantic about the blue-highway nowheres of America, & the camera captures both the ugliness & the Romantic mood of the environment.
Agnes is a booze waitress in a noisy Oklahoma bar. Her best friend is a pretty dyke called R-C (Lynn Collins), who with her lover is having trouble getting custody of her kid. With the amount of drugs around these characters, not getting custody is just as well.
Through her gay pal, Agnes meets a strong young soft-spoken man, Peter (Michael Shannon). He's a teetotlar & thinks she's pretty. She tells him, "People who don't drink make me nervous." He doesn't care; he says he's done with women in "that" way anyhow, he's just looking for a friend.
The dialogue is funny & great. "I'm from Beaver," he says. "We're all from beaver, ain't we?" she says, & the naive fellow with a completely straight face asks, "What do you mean?"
He's homeless so she lets him spend the night on the floor. But in the morning the guy is gone, & the dangerous ex-con Jerry is there in his place.
Peter wanders back from his morning doings (he's brought back muffins) & meets Jerry for the first time. He just missed seeing Jerry strike Agnes in the face, but it's obvious he's been violent, as she's laid out on the floor. After Jerry leaves, Peter helps her stand, gets her asprin. "I don't like that guy. I don't like that he hit you."
The narrative is periodically interrupted by bug hunts, bugs that are imperceptible, or bugs that bite, or bugs that are imaginary. Peter begins putting out bug-bait & flypaper.
It takes Agnes a while to realize this guy isn't going to turn out to be a savior type who'll take her away from all this. Rather, he lives in a very special world of paranoid delusion, though she can't help but suspect some bits of the delusion might indeed be based on something.
By the time Agnes might've realized this handsome innocent man might be the biggest nutter she has ever encountered, she already rather likes him, & is somehow infected with his paranoia.
The film becomes almost like a poem, a really dark poem, about love as a contagion. And now, suddenly, unexpectedly, she begins to see the bugs too.
The bugs become increasingly important in their life together, their crazed battle against unreality. No one but Agnes & Peter can detect the bugs. And whenever she tries to withdraw from their shared delusion, he becomes increasingly bizarre, drawing her back in.
He begins yanking out his teeth in a horrifyingly bloody sequence of screaming pain, convinced there are bug eggs underneath his teeth. He's certain he has been infected with bugs in some horrific army experiment. The bugs are in his blood, in his skin, & he needs Agnes to help him gouge them out.
But it isn't the physical horror of the tale that dominates. It's their shared state of mind that reminds me in part of the coinciding addiction of the brothers in Cronenberg's Dead Ringers (1988), except Bugs ups the ante of intensity & insanity by several degrees.
The transformation of their living space inside the motel room, their mutual devotion to the war against the bugs, is all exceedingly shocking in its weirdness & ugly-ass beauty.
And when a Dr. Sweet (Brian F. O'Byrne) tracks down Peter, revealing that he'd been institutionalized for four years, we can't be certain even then that it wasn't four years of evil government experiments involving bugs.
Agnes & Peter descend together into a most amazingly paranoid fortress, in which Agnes becomes Queen of the Superbugs, & Peter her devoted drone. This is obviously a pretty gross-out horror story but it is at the same time one of the most harrowing appalling love stories ever filmed.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl