Agnes White is a waitress at a gay bar living in a run-down motel in rural Oklahoma. Unable to move on from the disappearance of her son some years previously, she engages in drug and alcohol binges with her lesbian friend, R.C. Lately, she has been plagued by silent telephone calls that she believes are being made by her abusive ex-husband, Jerry Goss, who has recently been released from prison.
One night, R.C. introduces Agnes to Peter Evans, a drifter who says he is a recently discharged soldier. Agnes and Peter reach out to each other out of loneliness, and start a relationship. He convinces her that he was the subject of biological testing by the U.S. government while he was in the military, and says the anonymous phone calls she has been receiving were made by government agents in anticipation of his arrival. After they have sex, Peter tells Agnes that their room has become infested by bugs sent there by the government as part of their experiments.
Peter's movements and behavior become more erratic as he fights the bugs, invisible to the audience, that he claims are infesting his body. Agnes soon joins in this behavior. Over time, they isolate themselves from the outside world, sealing themselves in their room and covering it with flypaper and aluminum foil and lighting it with the glow from bug zappers. Peter, believing that a colony of microscopic bugs was implanted in one of his teeth, tears it out of his head. Using a child's microscope, he says he sees the bugs in the remains of the crushed tooth, as does Agnes.
A Dr. Sweet arrives, and tells Agnes that Peter has escaped while under treatment at a mental institution and that delusions about insects are a known symptom of Peter's mental illness. Peter kills Sweet, telling Agnes that he was a robot sent by the government. Together, Peter and Agnes elaborate upon Peter's beliefs in a conspiracy, including that Agnes' son was kidnapped by the government to lead her and Peter to meeting and that each of them is infected with bugs that are meant to mate with one another and take over the world. In order to prevent this, Agnes and Peter douse each other in gasoline and set themselves on fire.
In the end credits, the audience sees shots of the toys in Agnes and Peter's room completely intact, with no sign of the aluminium foil, and the body of Dr. Sweet, in the room covered with foil but undamaged by fire. Which shot, if any, shows "reality" is left unclear.Ashley Judd as Agnes White
Michael Shannon as Peter Evans
Lynn Collins as R.C.
Brian F. O'Byrne as Dr. Sweet
Harry Connick, Jr. as Jerry Goss
Its set design was done by Franco-Giacomo Carbone, the production designer of films such as Hostel (2005) and Rocky Balboa (2006).
Most of the film's action occurs in a seedy motel room. The scenario has three interconnected rooms — a bathroom, a kitchenette and a living room. At one point in the film, the room has several dozen fly strips hanging from the ceiling. At another point the entire room is covered from floor to ceiling in tinfoil. Friedkin has said the tinfoil was a nightmare to work with, because it had to be repaired constantly, and because it reflected everybody who was there, including the crew.
Exteriors of the motel were filmed near Olancha, California, and at Grace King High School while studio interiors of the motel room were filmed on a soundstage (a high school gymnasium) in Metairie, Louisiana, near New Orleans. A grocery store scene was shot at Migliore's Grocery, and the lesbian bar scene was shot at Boomerang's Bar, both located in New Sarpy, Louisiana. The movie took 21 days to shoot.
The story is supposed to take place in Oklahoma, however, the Sierra Nevada mountain range behind the motel belies the setting.
The film score was composed by Brian Tyler, with additional music by Serj Tankian. The end title song "Disappearing Act" was written and performed by Chris Cornell. Jay Faires was the film's music supervisor.
The film's theme song is performed by Serj Tankian, the lead singer of the rock band System of a Down. "Learning to Drive" is performed by Scott Weiland, the lead singer of the rock band Stone Temple Pilots.
Additional artists are Sean and Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek), Chainsaw Kittens, The Backsliders, Susan Tedeschi, Jerry Leiber, The Coasters, Alvin Robinson, Los Tigres del Norte, Leon Russell, and Brian Tyler.
The soundtrack was released in stores on May 22, 2007.
Distributed by Lionsgate, the film premiered in May 2006 in France in the Directors' Fortnight section at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.
The film received its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest on September 25, 2006, in Austin, Texas. It opened in the U.S. at 1,661 theaters on May 25, 2007. In its opening weekend it earned $3.24 million, and ranked as number four, of the most-seen films of the weekend, placed behind the popular franchise films Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Shrek 3 and Spider-Man 3.
It was released to theaters in France on February 21, 2007. It drew praise from most critics in France, but did not reach the top in the box office. In its opening week in France, it ranked as number twenty of the most-visited films of the week, and earned $216,244 from sixty-six screens.
It received a very limited United Kingdom release on November 9, 2007.
As of June 8, the film was in 331 theaters nationwide.
Friedkin has said that the film would have been flagged, in the 1960s or 1970s, as a horror film,but he insists it is no such thing. He told ComingSoon.net that "There were all sorts of people who looked at Bug, (including magazine people like Fangoria,) and they called it a horror film," he said. The horror connection "came from a lot of sources." Friedkin claims that Bug is "in many ways, a black comedy love story. He stated in an interview, that "It's not a genre film, but marketing works in mysterious ways. They have to find a genre for it. 'This is a comedy. This is a melodrama. This is a love story. This is a horror film. This is an adventure film.' Bug doesn't fit easily into any of those categories."
Bug was released on DVD. It was also available on HD DVD as a German exclusive, and has subsequently been released on Blu-ray Disc in Germany as well. A North American Blu-ray Disc release never materialized.
The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, shows a 61% score based on 130 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. The consensus states: "Disappointing resolution aside, Bug uses its claustrophobic setting and cinéma vérité camerawork to tense, impressive effect." Metacritic reports an average score of 62 out of 100, indicating "generally favorable reviews" based on 29 reviews.
On May 22, 2006, Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert wrote, "The film has caused a stir at Cannes, not least because its stars, Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon, achieve a kind of manic intensity that's frightening not just in itself but because you fear for the actors." Judd was praised for her performance by critic Dennis Dermody from Paper, who wrote: "Ashley Judd gives a raw, shattering Oscar-worthy performance." Stephen Schaeffer from the Boston Herald called it "one of the most disturbing horror movies imaginable." The film received generally positive reviews from the U.K. media, receiving three out of five in The Guardian. It was also critic Mark Kermode's film of the week on BBC Radio 5 Live.
Despite the praise, CinemaScore gave it rating of F based on surveys from general audiences.
The film received an award at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival from the International Federation of Film Critics in the Director's Fortnight section.
Judd was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Actress.