At the Border By Laurent AkninAt the Border By Laurent Aknin

in 59th Cannes Film Festival

by Laurent Aknin

William Friedkin may be best known for his classic horror movie, The Exorcist or The French Connection. Since his great period of the seventies, Friedkin directed many other films, some controversial (Cruising) , some others easily forgettable (Jade). But since the beginning of the new century, Friedkin, as an independent filmmaker, seems to have recovered the strength of a young filmmaker, with some powerful TV dramas (Seven Angry Men) and extraordinarily efficient low-budget movies like The Hunted, an action movie that is also a curious variation about the myth of Abraham and Isaac. With Bug, Friedkin has made one of his best works.

It’s a dark, edgy drama, adapted by screenwriter Tracy Letts from his Off-Broadway play. A lonely waitress with a tragic past, Agnes rooms in a run-down motel, living in fear of her abusive, recently paroled ex-husband. She begins a tentative romance with Peter, an eccentric and nervous drifter, and begins to feel hopeful again. But the husband returns and, at the same time, the first bugs arrive… The relationship between Agnes and Peter soon evolves into an escalating nightmare that may (or may not…) concern the government, covert surveillance and those mysterious bugs that burrow beneath the human skin…

With only almost one single set and five actors, Friedkin revisits all of his favourite themes: the emergence of Evil, the contamination inside a couple, the paranoia, the myth of conspiracy, all finding a strange echo since they are timeless and also totally contemporary (for example, some feedback of the war in Iraq and in the Gulf).

The film doesn’t provide any easy answers to the questions it poses. It’s almost impossible to tell where it’s going, what will happen in the next scene, or what the next movement will be. In this way, the spectator became himself paranoid, since everything seems at once insane and logical. The husband seems dangerous (he is), but maybe he has the right to be angry; the speeches of Peter seems logical, then became delirious – but, suspiciously, the psychiatrist (a new kind of exorcist) is much too kind and knows too much about Agnes.

The tension starts at the very beginning, with a large shot from the sky, until the climactic nightmare, deep inside the minds of two traumatised and erratic human beings. At the border between psychological drama and horror movie, Bug is a fascinating and restless experience. We must add that not a single bug is shown in the entire film (except, maybe, in a very fast “flash” shot that’s almost impossible to identify). But in the end you will see them.