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Movie Review

Agnes White ekes out a sketchy existence on the margins of life in the Oklahoma panhandle. The divorced bartender calls a "suite" at the dilapidated Rustic Motel home; cocaine, hard liquor and a casual lesbian relationship with her partner, R.C., don't completely numb her to the pain of her existence. And when R.C. introduces her to an odd stranger named Peter Evans, things go from bad to worse.

Actually, awful to unthinkable is more like it. Peter seems harmless enough at first, unlike Agnes' abusive ex-husband, Jerry, who's just gotten out of prison. In contrast, Peter's soft-spoken demeanor, attention to detail and concern for Agnes warm her heart. So much so that when she learns Peter is homeless, she invites him to stay at her place.

Friendship and trust bloom, and romance soon follows. But it's not until they consummate their relationship that Agnes begins to learn of Peter's dark secrets. An AWOL escapee from an Army hospital, Peter claims to have been the victim of experiments gone bad: His body—and now hers, he says—have been infested with genetically engineered superbugs that are eating them alive from the inside out. Desperation lapses into hysteria, and soon he's cutting "egg sacks" from his body, covering every surface with tin foil to block the bugs' communication and babbling on about ever-more elaborate conspiracy theories.

But is Peter's version of reality actually real? Though R.C. and Peter's Army physician, Dr. Sweet, try to convince Agnes it's not, it's too late to stop the increasingly unstable young woman from being swept into a tragic, misguided attempt to get rid of all the bugs once and for all.

Positive Elements

Unlike her cruel ex, Peter is attentive to Agnes' physical and emotional needs. He buys her breakfast. He gets her an aspirin after Jerry hits her. He's perceptive enough to know when she's not telling the whole truth. When they first meet, he has no romantic or sexual intentions towards her, and simply wants to be her friend (and for her to be his). Agnes, in turn, allows the vagabond to stay with her, offering to let him sleep on the couch. It's definitely not a wise decision, but it is a kind and innocent one. She also tells him, eventually, about the tragic loss of her 6-year-old son, Lloyd, who was abducted from her shopping cart when she looked away for a moment.

Dr. Sweet seems genuinely interested in helping Peter.

Spiritual Content

Peter reads Agnes so well that she asks if he's Jeane Dixon, the psychic who allegedly predicted John Kennedy's assassination (to which Agnes also refers). Agnes is somewhat superstitious; she tells Peter that killing a cricket will bring bad luck. She also looks at a message in her Magic 8 Ball. Peter tells Agnes his father was a preacher and that he was homeschooled. Agnes makes a passing, mocking reference to her ex-husband finding God.

Sexual Content

A very explicit sex scene between Peter and Agnes includes sexual sounds, as well as full-length shots and close-ups of sexual movements. Her breasts are exposed and mouthed. Both his and her bare backsides are shown later. A couple of full-frontal but relatively dark scenes picture him nude.

[Spoiler Warning] Bug ends by giving moviegoers a full side view of Peter and Agnes nude; her breast and a bit of their groin areas are visible. These images are then indelibly entwined with an act of extreme and fatal violence.

Elsewhere, we glimpse more nudity as Agnes goes to the bathroom. Her thin nightie is translucent in the sunlight in several scenes. Early on, R.C. leans across Agnes affectionately and rubs her own bare stomach; Agnes calls her a "horn-dog." Later they share a goodbye kiss. Jerry jokes about R.C. being a "queer girl" and threatens to treat Agnes badly if she's now gay too. Jerry is shown without a shirt after he gets out of the shower, and he kisses R.C. A crude term for masturbation is used, as well as one for the female anatomy.

Violent Content

Gut-wrenchingly violent moments punctuate Bug. Among the most visceral of these is a scene in which Peter pulls out two teeth with a pliers because he believes egg sacks are embedded in his fillings. His mouth, face, hands and shirt are covered with blood. Likewise, Peter's body is increasingly covered with scabby wounds caused by his digging into his flesh to remove the bugs. Agnes begins to suffer from sores and scratches on her face and neck as well, indicating that they're going after bugs in her, too (though we don't see them doing it).

[Spoiler Warning] Another truly brutal moment finds Peter stabbing Dr. Sweet repeatedly, perhaps a dozen or more times, with a steak knife. Jerry and Agnes' deeply disturbing (and to someone desperate and unstable enough to emulate it, possibly "inspiring") final solution to their bug "infestation" is to pour gasoline on themselves while naked and light a match. We don't see them burn, but it's clear what's happened as flames race through her home.

To repel Jerry from her home, Agnes fires a nail gun at his hand. Jerry hits Agnes hard with his fist, knocking her to the floor; she has a bloody lip to show for it. Agnes later slaps R.C. And Peter has a massive seizure on a bed when R.C. is on the verge of convincing Agnes that his bugs are actually imaginary.

Crude or Profane Language

Strong obscenities saturate the script. F-words are flung more than 50 times; s-words about 25 times. God's and Jesus' names are taken in vain 30-plus times, including nearly 10 pairings of "god" and "d--n."

Drug and Alcohol Content

There's hardly a scene in which Agnes doesn't drink an alcoholic beverage. Empty wine and liquor bottles litter her kitchen. She asks Peter to mix vodka and Coke for breakfast, and she's incredulous at the fact that he doesn't drink. R.C. is shown with a beer at least twice. People drink at a bar. (The brand Wild Turkey is mentioned by name.)

Agnes sucks on cigarettes almost as frequently as she drinks. She smokes marijuana. And it's implied that she snorts lines of cocaine off a mirror. We watch as she takes a hit on a crack pipe as well. Later, Dr. Sweet takes several drags from the same pipe.

Other Negative Elements

Peter's paranoia slowly but steadily mounts. He's deeply suspicious of the government, and his conspiracy theories about the nefarious intent of the government grow more and more outrageous. He says he believes the government is using the bugs as a biological way to keep track of and control humanity.

Agnes ends up just as delusional as Peter, declaring, "I am the super mother bug." After hitting her, Jerry steals Agnes' small stash of cash. Dr. Sweet knows about Lloyd's abduction, and he lies to Agnes, telling her that she'll be reunited with him if she helps get Peter back to the hospital.


Though marketing for Bug seems to be targeted at the same crowd that's been infatuated with Hostel, this story really is something else entirely. This isn't a creepy-crawly version of Saw; it's A Beautiful Mind gone horribly, horribly awry.

Just as in that film, it takes some time to sort out what's really happening in Bug. And though the film does have some sickening moments, its true horror is much more psychological as we realize that an unstable young woman has been unwittingly swept into an unstable man's gruesome wake. He's not wicked or evil, but he either has been or he absolutely believes he has been infected by burrowing bugs determined to eat him alive. And that makes Agnes' capitulation to his reality all the more awful to watch. Not for a minute can you imagine the story heading toward a happy ending—and it certainly doesn't provide one.

While it figuratively stokes the fires of destruction, though, it also poses some significant questions. What is real? How do you know? Whom do you trust to help you define what's real and what's imaginary? Bug demonstrates how easily a lonely and susceptible person can be held captive, emotionally and mentally, by even a preposterous reality held by someone else. In that sense, it serves as a brutally tragic morality tale.

But whatever Bug's cautionary merits might be, the bottom line is unequivocal: A movie doesn't have to hail from the same zip code as The Hills Have Eyes for its nudity, violence, obscenity and drug abuse to fatally undermine its half-hearted philosophical inquiries—and possibly inspire real-life tragedy at the same time.

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Ashley Judd as Agnes White; Michael Shannon as Peter Evans; Lynn Collins as R.C.; Harry Connick Jr. as Jerry Goss; Brian F. O'Byrne as Dr. Sweet


William Friedkin ( )





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Adam R. Holz

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