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Challenging but impressive music for claustrophobic thriller

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Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Lionsgate Entertainment; review copyright (c) 2007 James Southall

It's odd how many directors seem to make a great film or two early in their career and then spiral ever-downwards for decades thereafter, but it's happened to several, and William Friedkin is a prime example, somehow managing to "progress" from The French Connection and The Exorcist to his nadir, The Hunted, which could only have boosted its resemblance to a full-scale Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker spoof of First Blood if it had starred Leslie Nielson in the Benicio del Toro role.  His latest is Bug, which has actually garnered some very positive reviews from its appearances in a few festivals in 2006, but which has sat on the shelf for a long time since - hardly a sign of confidence from its distributor.

The film is a psychological thriller which takes place largely in one motel room and only features a handful of actors - Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon play a woman and man convinced their bodies are riddled with parasitic insects, and it studies their growing obsessions.  It called for a claustrophobic, intense score, and that's exactly what it got, courtesy of Brian Tyler, whose music was The Hunted's only saving grace.  In fact, it was that film that really put Tyler forward as a composer of note, and a couple more fine scores followed, but the few years since have not seen the composer manage to return to that level of quality - until now.

Bug is Tyler's most creative and daring score yet, the kind of music which most Hollywood composers wouldn't dream of applying to a film.  It is challenging and extremely difficult to listen to, but ultimately so effective that one can't help but admire it.  The album - available only as a digital download - begins with its most avant garde selections, a suite of three cues entitled "Birth", "Life" and "Death".  It is music in its most extreme form, as Tyler integrates a hypnotic array of samples, weird live sounds and percussion to provide a 12-minute suite of ferociously unsettling proportions, coming up with the kind of raw intensity that a few lesser composers have attempted in horror films over the last few years (I'm thinking of The Devil's Rejects, for example) but haven't achieved with anything remotely like this much flair.

"Nocturne for Lloyd" introduces the score's only melodic hint, and even this is tinged with so much darkness - a piano solo which in its own way is as unsettling as the musique concrète of the opening tracks.  It recurs several times through the score, and even though it is itself a hard listen, it is an essential relief from the other music which is essentially as challenging as film music from a mainstream Hollywood composer is ever going to get in 2007.  The music occasionally veers towards something a little more conventional (though this is only speaking relatively) - the "action" track "Aphids" remains intensely claustrophobic, but would probably be more palatable to many.

Even though I would be lying if I said I thought many people would be able to sit and listen to this for an hour on any kind of frequent basis, it's impossible not to admire Tyler for coming up with such visceral music, a welcome change from the bland, generic norm in this type of film.  If you like your film music at the most extreme, avant garde end, then surely you will find a lot to like in Bug - I hesitate to encourage others to buy it, simply because it is certain that many will find it far too difficult to enjoy, but it is music which certainly deserves to be heard.


  1. Birth (2:00)
  2. Life (6:07)
  3. Death (3:42)
  4. Nocturne for Lloyd (2:36)
  5. Mantra (2:29)
  6. Drug (2:35)
  7. Phonescape (4:21)
  8. The Temptation of Dr Sweet (6:23)
  9. Aphids (5:13)
  10. The Theory of Agnes (4:25)
  11. The Motel in Oklahoma (3:31)
  12. The Solution of Fire (6:56)
  13. Millions (3:43)
  14. Conception (4:50)
  15. Peterception (3:03)