Shudder is the best monthly investment on the internet right now, as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve been a subscriber since they were in their infancy and even through crass Reddit threads panning the then-new network, I stayed on the wagon. Why? No reason other than a gut feeling. I could tell they were ambitious and trying to be a different kind of entertainment outlet—easily discernible from the myriad of streaming networks now available across the web. In that endeavor, they have succeeded and are on track to continue raising the bar.
I’ve tried a lot of services, cancelled a lot of services, but with the exception of the times I forgot to change my billing info on my account after getting a new card, they’re the only service I’ve never proactively cancelled at one time or another.
Yes, I’ve even cancelled my Netflix account a time or two.
The point here is, from Filmstruck to Hulu, streaming services come in and out of my life as my viewing habits change, but Shudder is the sole network I’m actually loyal to. I’m not sure what it is about their platform that does it, but something within Shudder fills the void in my life left by the extinction of video store horror sections. When I open Shudder, I get the same feeling as when I used to peruse horror titles, back when physical media dominated the entertainment world.
The last time I wrote about Shudder was for my review of Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In, where I rambled far too long about things having nothing to do with the special itself. If ever there’s an appropriate time to do so, it’s when talking about Joe Bob. Today, however, I’m going to try to stay focused, because I’m here to talk about a completely different work of art, currently available on Shudder. It’s a widely overlooked gem from The Exorcist Director William Friedken, and for my money, a better movie than The Exorcist (fight me in the comments if you want, but I’ll win).
The movie is called Bug, and let me tell you, it’s more intense than that time on Full House when Michelle lost her shit and crawled across the table to stuff her face full of cake samples. No easy feat.
When Bug first came out, it didn’t fare as well with critics or audiences as it should have. Not because it was “ahead of its time” or any other such hackneyed excuses, but because it was poorly marketed.
Bug is not a horror film about a bug or a horde of bugs. It’s not about bedbugs, Volkswagen Bugs, insects of any kind, arachnids, ill-tempered ants, my ill-tempered aunt, or even a horrific case of crabs (though, now I have a new script idea). It’s a horror movie about an insane person, who is gradually sucking a vulnerable and hopeless woman into his delusions. Yes, his delusions include bugs, but they also include government conspiracies and cyborgs. I’m not sure Bug was the best name for the movie, but far be it from me to tell Friedkin what to call his masterpieces.
What I am sure of is that the film’s original trailer was misleading to the point of being an outright lie. Take a look.
OK, so that trailer you just saw? It’s nothing like Bug. I’m certain the people who went to see this movie came to see a gross-out fest involving bugs living in people’s skin.
There are no bugs. Michael Shannon and Ashley Judd give Oscar-worthy performances, as should be expected. The movie’s screenplay comes from the legendary Tracy Letts, so you know the writing is incredible. It’s directed by the guy who made one of the most famous horror films of all time, thus, the execution was in masterful hands. So of course, it’s one of the best films of the ‘00s. It’s an incredible watch, but it’s not what people came to see. You can give me the best fish sandwich ever created, and I love a good fish sandwich, but if I bite into it expecting a cheeseburger, I’m going to be nonplussed.
“No, fuck you, that’s not the point. Yes, actually I love fish, but you lied to me and I don’t like being lied to. Now I’m angry.” -Someone who is about to find out they’re already talking to the manager.
Bug the same problem as Halloween III, it’s a fantastic movie, but its promotion was deceitful. I’m not sure who was in charge of promoting Bug upon its release, but Shudder wasn’t around back then, so don’t blame them. That trailer ruined the movie’s reputation right out of the gate.
Now that Shudder has picked it up, it’s time for Bug to have a second chance at getting the credit it deserves.
Normally I deep dive into analysis and get uncomfortably personal on this site, but honestly there’s not a great deal of relatable content for me in the film, it’s just good. I’ve talked about mental issues here before, but I’ve never been in a situation even close to that. As weird, surreal, and scary as it gets—and I assure you, it does—I find it to be pretty straightforward. That said, there are a couple of moments, courtesy of Tracy Letts’ mastery over the art of writing, which leave the viewer morally conflicted, and that’s the juiciest bit of the film.
Recapping movies is arbitrary and tedious, so I try to do as little of that as I can get away with, and I’m not changing that about myself today. Wikipedia has plot recaps, check those guys out if you want one. But for the sake of reference, in this case, it’s a little necessary. Ashley Judd plays Agnes, a grieving mother whose son went missing years ago. Her piece-of-shit ex-husband Jerry (Harry Connick Jr.) is an abusive prick who intimidates and torments Agnes, giving her all kinds of wonderful complexes to accompany the anguish of losing a child.
Agnes meets Peter, played by the always-brilliant, Michael Shannon.
Peter seems nice at first, but he’s not. An attorney representing Shithouse Rats Of America sent a letter warning me that I am, under no circumstance, to compare his clients with Peter from Bug, because he’s so much crazier than those guys, the mere comparison would be considered libel in a court of law. He’s beyond insane, beyond batshit, and in a problematic class of mental illness slang all his own.
Peter is what I like to call, out to lunch.
I’ve written extensively about mental health, my own included, and it’s probably the subject most personal for me to write about, but Bug shows viewers a sadly true reality about the mentally ill. Regardless of the fact that such mental illnesses are generally not the fault of the individual suffering it, the plain fact is, when left untreated, the mentally ill can, and often do, become terribly toxic to those around them. Bug explores that reality and takes it to its worst case scenario.
Agnes is desperate, scared, vulnerable, and dealing with issues of her own, Peter comes into her life and gives her that little push into madness The Joker was referring to in The Dark Knight.
By the end of Bug, the morality of its viewer is being contorted in ways they never thought possible. While Agnes’ ex-husband, Jerry, is a dirtbag, and his abuse toward her is not excused in any way, we find ourselves hoping he can save her from Peter, as he genuinely seems to want to. Peter pulls Agnes so far into the depths of madness, even Jerry recognizes this situation for being the horror show that it is.
Early in the film, I’m wishing Jerry would just leave Agnes the hell alone. By the final scene, I’m begging him to get through the door and talk some sense into her. It’s a unique moral dilemma for the viewer I can’t recall seeing executed in any other film.
Is Jerry bad? Yes. Without a doubt. Is Peter worse? I’m afraid so.
The truth is, that’s reality for a lot of people in the world: “Do I make the bad decision, or the worse decision?” For the down-and-out, there often isn’t a “good” option. Bug is a horror movie, as it’s quite horrifying, but it’s also heartbreaking. The movie touches on self-destruction, human toxicity, loneliness, paranoia, and whatever the hell condition it is that causes someone to jump up and maniacally declare themselves “the super mother bug.”
That last one is not a symptom listed on WebMD.
If you haven’t seen Bug, I just told you a good bit, but I’m not giving away the ending and there’s a truckload of memorable scenes I never touched on. If you’re in the camp that saw it and was disappointed by not getting a movie about bugs living in people’s skin, give it another go, but this time just try to forget that awful trailer.
If you’re like me, have seen Bug on more than three occasions, and absolutely love it, go watch Killer Joe, because it’s by the same writer, same director, and is just as criminally underrated.
Bug got a raw deal by its marketing team, but it’s long past time for that movie to find its audience.