Review Date: October 15, 2007
Released by: Lions Gate
Release date: 09/25/2007
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
William Friedkin has had a spotted career. After being the critically acclaimed enfant terrible of the seventies his stock began to quickly change after his finest film, Sorcerer
, flopped. Hard. Following that up with the seemingly gay-bashing Cruising
wasnít really the wisest career choice, nor was then partnering up with Chevy Chase for the apparently comedic Deal of a Century
. To Live and Die in L.A.
was a fine return to form, but by then audiences had given up on him. He became, basically, a director-for-hire for Paramount, since his wife Sherry Lansing was acting president. He made horror with The Guardian
, Shaq-Fu with Blue Chips
and war with Rules of Engagement
, severed from the personal themes he had instilled in his finer work. With his wife retired and his ties to Paramount no longer, Friedkin finally got some good notices for his first post-Paramount picture, Bug
. While the box office wasnít there, at least the reviews were. Itís now on DVD, so letís see if it will creep into the collections of cult fans who had since written The Exorcist
follows around Agnes White (Ashley Judd
), a lady with a background not nearly as pure as her name. Her child with Jerry (Harry Connick Jr.
) was kidnapped over a year ago, and sheís been part of an abusive relationship ever since. She keeps looking for him everywhere, at the supermarket, on the street, but thereís never anything there. She comes home and itís to her abusive boyfriend, who verbally assaults her as much as he does physically. She battered and torn, looking for a friend. Looking for someone who can make a connection with her and stop her from feeling so empty.
In walks Peter Evans (Michael Shannon
), who she meets through a friend. Heís quiet and a tad awkward, but exudes a sort of wide-eyed innocence. Under odd circumstances he ends up having a lengthy conversation with her outside her hotel room, and shortly thereafter heís sleeping over. On the couch at first, but slowly Agnes lets him into her life. He defends her when her bad beau comes home, and comforts her with words about her son. She feels sheís finally made a connection in life. And then the bugs come.
At first the bugs donít exist, but then they are seemingly everywhere. They both think they hear a cricket, but it turns out only to be a fire alarm. Later though, Peter finds a microscopic bug in the bed. Then he finds one under his skin. Then one under hers. Then hundreds. Then thousands. He thinks it is all a big conspiracy for the government to monitor everyoneís actions, and he quickly passes his paranoia onto Agnes. The bugs wonít stop multiplying, and no matter what they do they canít seem to rid themselves of them. How this all ties back to her lost son involves one big, crazy Queen Bee.
was originally a stage play, but you wouldnít know that from Friedkinís assured direction. The man rekindles a style he seemingly lost twenty years ago with this incredibly atmospheric character portrait. Even though the action takes place almost entirely in a hotel room, Friedkin manages the near impossible in making the film a crazed visual experience. Even before the style gets all aluminum blue for the final act, Friedkinís attention to the tiniest of details turns the most mundane of settings into one resonating with dark spirits. A high angle shot above a ceiling fan suggests Agnesí dangerous and revolving relationship with Jerry, who sits below it. Even the sound design suggests menace, where everyday sounds are confused with surveillance bugs. Friedkin is so in command of his craft here, that he doesnít need any superficial effects or stunts to make us believe. There is never a single bug shown in the movie, but after itís all done, heíll have made you believe youíd seen thousands.
Friedkin states in the supplements that in his heyday in the seventies he was able to tap into the cultural zeitgeist Ė he knew what got to people and he knew how to put it up on screen. Although he claims otherwise today, Bug
, proves more than ever that heís aware of his surroundings. This is quintessentially a post-9/11 movie, where paranoia runs rampant towards a contemptible government. In this era of mass technology, Friedkinís characters, even in their secluded little room, are constantly invaded by the sounds of surveillance around them. Thereís always a buzzing, a beeping or a car screeching in the background, and like the buzzing of a bee it circles over the psyche of these characters. In this era of ďterrorismĒ, as Friedkinís called it, thereís no trust and no shelter. The war is in our living rooms, whether on the television, or metaphorically here, in that Apocalypse Now-recalling ceiling fan. If Saw
is Iraqi torture made for the masses, then Bug
is the same thing done for the mind.
Like the greatest examples of minimalist paranoia in the cinema, The Conversation
, Friedkinís film fuses technical experimentation with very humanist performances. Ashley Juddís a revelation here, previously a solid actress in underwritten roles she now has one deep enough for her talents. She goes the Oscar root of uglifying herself and exposing it all for the cinema, but she gives such heartfelt emotion to her character itís easy to see past the put-upon excess. Michael Shannon is a real discovery too, proving why he was brought in to reprise his same role from the play. Heís initially so sympathetic, and so determined in his actions, that you canít help but feel for him even when he starts to go completely crazy. Even when the bugs get under his, he never gets under your skin.
is not an easy watch. Itís depressing, disgusting and claustrophobic. The story is thoroughly sad, and in the latter portion veers off into an overwhelmingly bizarre and unsettling direction. Yet still, itís important. It marks a return for Friedkin, and a return to political parables in the cinema. Itís a near masterpiece of impressionism, Friedkin able to create so much feeling and emotion from so little. With a cast of essentially three characters, a single hotel setting and almost no special effects, the once iconic director proves heís still got it. Give the man a room and a camera, and Friedkin will let your imagination do the rest.
The film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and benefits from the usual clarity that comes with new films today. The print is totally clean and without blemish, but other than that, this is an average transfer at best. The thematic neon blues used throughout the film are significantly more subdued than those exhibited theatrically, which makes a big difference when the entire finale is washed in the color. Even the greens of the foliage outside the apartment seem a tad washed out. The color is definitely muted, and since it couldnít have been because of the quality of the print it has to have been an ill-advised transfer decision. The grain is also more prominent than need be, especially since Friedkin boasts of the clarity of 35mm throughout his interview in the supplements. Certainly not a terrible transfer, but a disappointment nonetheless.
If the video could have been amped up more, so too the sound. Even though the sound design is one of the most complex in years, this mix doesnít quite have the range and depth that the theatrical track displayed. Still, itís an enveloping mix, with ambient effects totally dominating the track from all sides, heightening the claustrophobia. Discreet effects are used minimally, as directionality is sacrificed more for a total invasion of noise. The whole track seems softer here than it should be, but thanks to the strength of the sound mixing alone, itís definitely a workout on the eardrums.
Although this is listed as a special edition, there are ďonlyĒ two featurettes and a commentary. The first featurette, ďBug
: An IntroductionĒ is a bit of a misnomer, since it runs 11 minutes and is more an EPK than a proper precursor to the feature. It starts off with some nice bits of Friedkin on set, and then lets the actors all talk about their roles and their experiences working on the film. Itís a little more detailed than your average promotional piece, with Connick Jr. sharing some insight to Friedkinís craft, how he likes to throw actors directional curveballs and how he never says ďAction!Ē.
The second featurette is definitely the better of the two, a 27-minute talk with William Friedkin. In here he discusses all aspects of cinema, from the films of John Ford up to his own films, and then also the future of the medium as well. He hypothesizes on why The Exorcist
touched a nerve and how Sorcerer
, and everything heís done since, didnít. He shares some wonderful anecdotes on how he supervised the theatrical release of The Exorcist
, ending the segment off with questioning whether heís a control freak. Probably, but thatís what made the seventies directors so fascinating to watch. He also holds nothing back, declaring several of his films to be outright garbage. Itís a candid, honest and insightful look into the past and the future of cinema like only Friedkin can tell it.
Friedkin says in his interview that the audience always knows best, yet here in this commentary he basically explains every mystery of the film, in essence telling us what to think. Itís a pretty pretentious track, and not really needed at all. You can touch on your major themes, sure, that would be welcome. But explaining it for the length of the film, every character motivation and every probability, it quickly becomes tedious. Stick with the two solid featurettes instead.
The disc is rounded off with theatrical trailers for other Lionsgate offerings. Is the era of putting theatrical trailers for the movie being released on DVD a thing of the past? I hope not.
William Friedkin announces his return to form in a big way with the small, personal and depressing Bug
. Itís a compelling character portrait done up with a dazzling technical flair, with the camera always moving and the soundtrack never letting up. The audio and video transfers donít really do Friedkinís film justice, but they are still more than serviceable. With two nice featurettes full of insight from Friedkin, itís easy to overlook the snoozer of a commentary. The press is always keen on trying to peg any new film from a fallen heavyweight as a ďcomebackĒ, but here, finally, their words have weight: Friedkin is back.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B+
Supplements - B+
- Running time - 1 hour 41 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- English Dolby Surround 2.0
- English subtitles
- Spanish subtitles
- Audio commentary with William Friedkin
- Bug: An introduction
- A discussion with William Friedkin