I had never before felt the combined effects of frustration, boredom, confusion, and disgust. Now that I’ve seen Bug, I have, and I don’t particularly appreciate the experience.
For starters, the movie takes for-rudding-ever to go anywhere. It begins with Agnes (Ashley Judd), in a motel room, getting frustrated at the constant ringing of her telephone. She thinks it’s her ex-husband, Jerry (Harry Connick Jr.), who has recently been released from prison, although he later denies calling her. We never actually find out, as the phone thing becomes pretty inconsequential once all the crazy starts happening.
Agnes, for the record, is frumpy, slow on the uptake, and incredibly weak-willed. To Judd’s credit, she immerses herself entirely into the character, shedding any attractive quality about herself. In the movie, Agnes is introduced, by way of a mutual friend, to Peter (Michael Shannon) whose social awkwardness is matched only by his… actually, his lack of social skills is pretty incomporable. Despite his unrelenting creepiness, Agnes sees a vulnerability and sweetness in him, and invites him to spend the night on her couch.
The next morning, after Jerry breaks in, Agnes asks him to leave, which he does, after smacking her around a bit. Peter then comes back, toting muffins, and a near brain-dead reaction to the state he finds her in: “I don’t like that he hit you,” says Peter. It doesn’t say much for Agnes’s choices that Peter’s distaste for domestic abuse puts him over the top as a sexual partner. Oh yes, they bone. After an evening of non-flirtation, Peter finally says “I think I could go to bed with you.” So, off they trot, into bed, and share an unsexy naked montage, including one of the grossest on-screen kisses ever:
At this point, you may be wondering “Why is this movie called Bug?” or “Aren’t there supposed to be bugs in this movie?” I was very much wondering the same thing, especially since I was almost halfway through the damned thing and all I had seen was awkward, unclever hicks desperately trying, and miserably failing, to have an intelligent, intelligible conversation. Lucky for us, this is where the bug thing starts.
After waking up the next morning, Peter finds a bug in the bed. Here, after about an hour of waiting, we see a scene that’s actually worth watching. The two share some fun banter about bugs. Also notably in this scene, Peter has apparently become an entirely different person. He is no longer shy or awkward and he seems to know a lot about everything.
As the movie progresses, Peter starts to notice more and more bugs. Eventually, it gets to the point where they hang up fly paper and bug zappers all over the motel. Furthermore, Peter tells Agnes that the reason he is on the run is because, as a soldier, the government had been experimenting on him, but he escaped. What begins as conceivable concern quickly descends into terrifying paranoia, as Peter makes outlandish discoveries about the nature of the bugs. When the bugs get under his skin, he cuts them out. When he realizes that there is an eggsac in his tooth, he yanks it out. As out of hand as the situation gets, Michael Shannon somehow grounds the character, making his insanity believable and incredibly unsettling. Eventually, he coaches Agnes to get her to accept the “truths” that he has lighted upon. Once she does (because apparently, crazy is contagious), the two become howling, naked maniacs. And oh yeah, there aren’t actually any bugs.
The movie gets points for a few things: the bug-talk scene, and the willingness of the actors to just go with it. The last 15 minutes is only tolerable because of Judd and Shannon. But, even they can’t salvage the hour and a half it took to get there.