Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Films that didn't beat the odds but should have: BUG

     Maybe it isn't the seventies anymore, but give William Friedkin some credit. He made The French Connection and The Exorcist and the strangely forgotten To Live and Die in L.A., and for some reason dropped off of the map. Well, not just some reason, there are several good reasons (I'm looking at you The Hunted), but it seems like he went from a well respected, bankable director to a television movie director (literally, he directed a television adaptation of 12 Angry Men). Okay, so his career is questionable, but you can't ever rule out the guy who created two of the most iconic films ever made.
     But it seems like we have.
     I have no other explanation for how the deliciously insane horror film Bug(2006) failed at the box office and with most critics than to say that the public consensus of William Friedkin is that he is no longer "with us". I assure you that he most definitely is. Bug is not just a horror film, it's a drama, a comedy, a character study, and a surprisingly heartbreaking tragedy. Of course, you wouldn't know it from the terrible trailers that marketed the movie, nor could you tell from the ridiculous categorization of this movie as a thriller.
    To put something straight, if a horror movie is looking for acclaim, those who market the movie call it a thriller. The Sixth Sense, clearly a horror film, was marketed as a thriller. I understand that horror as a genre has always had a stigma, like it's low art. Granted, a ton of horror movies are low art. This shouldn't stop us from calling something what it is. The Silence of the Lambs is a horror film, as is The Exorcist, and I think everybody knows that by now. But when a movie like Bug comes along, with a slow moving story that settles into the back of your mind and then slaps it, don't tell people that they are going to be thrilled. They won't be. National Treasure is a thrilling movie. Psycho is a thriller. There are moments that come out of nowhere, as part of a ride, and shock you. Movies like the ones previously mentioned, work slowly to draw you in and scare you. Their entire purpose is to scare you. A thriller is to make you sit on the edge of your seat and occasionally jump out of your seat, but a horror movie, a true horror movie, simply lights a candle in the back of your mind and lets the wax seep into your synapses. Now, isn't that a delightful little image?
     Now that I've gotten that out of the way, it's important to note that Friedkin did not write Bug. The screenplay, as well as the play from which the screenplay was adapted, was written by Tracy Letts. The writing is sensational. The film involves the slow transition of a woman from her lonely need for companionship to a truly terrifying mental instability. It does this realistically and with no sign of pretension.
     Michael Shannon reprises his role from the stage play and hits the right notes, doing crazy as he seems to always do, but the real standout performance here is by Ashley Judd. She is absolutely mesmerizing in her depiction of a woman who is handicapped by the loss of her son and the controlling hand of her recently paroled ex-husband (played by an admittedly hammy Harry Conick Jr.). Judd has control of every scene, and she guides the audience through a transition that is, to put it lightly, difficult to believe. Yet she somehow makes it look completely effortless.
    Perhaps the biggest problem with this movie is what makes it so good. Friedkin, a director who has never left the seventies in terms of his style and content, treats the movie with no sense of ironic detachment or tongue-in-cheek asides for the audience. The story is simply told, and disintegrating minds simply disintegrate. The line "I am the super mother bug!" is delivered without a hint of humor. Audiences these days, especially in my generation, don't take kindly to films that expect you to take them seriously. And this line, I must say, would break the walls of even the most stalwart 16 year olds, the current market and obvious demographic target for recent "thrillers" and horror films.
     But please, if you can even find it these days, look up Bug and take ninety minutes out of your day to watch what happens to be, in my opinion, to be one of the most criminally overlooked and devastating horror films in quite some time.
     (If you're interested, check out another strangely overlooked film, Rob Zombie's Halloween II)


  1. I will not watch this movie. But not because I'm above it. But because I'm below it.

  2. Ashley Judd's character's ability to pick the wrong man is as disturbing and tragic as her plight in this captivating and haunting film.