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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

Bug (2006, ***)

AT THE AGE OF 71, WILLIAM FRIEDKIN’S MANAGED TO MAKE A MOVIE that has moments that are even more terrifying than The Exorcist (1973). The sustained intensity of that movie remains mysterious: a while back, over the course of several weeks, I watched 06_300dpi.jpgFriedkin’s blunt yet elusive film five times in a row, in 10-minute bites each day. I have some notions, but its power (beyond the great male fear of the power of emerging female sexuality) remains enigmatic. (Mark Kermode has written a couple of editions of an exceptional book about that film.) The exquisite and troubling Bug is based on a Steppenwolf-produced play from 2004 by Tracy Letts (who also wrote the screenplay). Michael Shannon, who originated the role, plays Peter, a Gulf War veteran who happens into the life of Agnes, a weary Oklahoma woman who lives in a motel literally named “Rustic,” the letters on its roof battered by years of winds. Ashley Judd plays Agnes with unstrung empathy, and a certain modicum of fearlessness as the story turns brutally dark. Agnes still lives in fear of her ex, Goss, played by a bulked-up Harry Connick, Jr., especially after she finds out he’s been released from prison early. Once the pair bond, “Bug” grows relentless. There’s a staggering amount of technique on display, even as the events of Peter’s growing paranoia about “all the technology, the chemical, the information” become repellent. The dialogue is theatrical without coming off stagy; there are swell small observations like Agnes’ “People who don’t drink make me nervous”; “I was bad to drink back then”; “You a con?” getting the very con-like reply, “No, ma’am”; and Judd’s drawn-out Kentucky drawl, “Not that I got much to say unless I talk about mis-e-ry.” Directing opera of late seems to have reinvigorated Friedkin’s interest in storytelling through sound; the sound design, which includes nearly silent passages, the whoosh of ceiling fans and helicopter blades (real or imagined). These are the wings of dark angels, as in Douglas Sirk’s final masterpiece, the equally claustrophobic Talk To Me Like The Rain (1975). Michael Grady’s boldly colored cinematography, and a willingness to zoom from close to closer up, lends even more intensity to the febrile goings-on. Shannon’s generously theatrical, gestural performance is matched by a couple of shared hallucinations by Peter and Agnes, as we see what they think is happening; with a roar of helicopter noise, the motel room is battered and lit and shakes like they were inside the house that detonates at the end of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Poin.” (There is a little bit of Billy Bob Thornton’s Karl Childers in the clipped mien adopted by Shannon, but that is only a parallel, and surely not an influence on his fully realized performance.) Some will reject as familiar the down-at-the-mouth characters and others will find the increasing violence intolerable. Still, I was awestruck by huge chunks of the movie’s infuriating descent beyond madness and the inexorable style. For example, there’s a jumpcut from a striking sex scene to an exterior shot of the motel by day, which immediately jumpcuts to night. That’s a Billy Friedkin editing shock. There’s also the memorable end credit, “Additional Music by Serj Tankian,” and yes, those stings from the System of a Down frontman are used in just the way they ought to be. [Ray Pride.] Bug opens wide Friday.

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