Bugs: A Trilogy is a horror anthology in which all three stories center on, what else, bugs. Director Simone Kisiel and star/writer Alexandra Grunberg don’t just mean insects with their title, as “bugs” has several meanings here. The film is also unique because it does not have a wraparound segment like most anthologies do.
The first tale, Hatchling, is about Diane (Grunberg) attempting to get Elliott (Kobi Frumer) to go to bed. She’s watching the child as a favor to his mom, whose sick. However, the boy proves to be a huge pest and is openly hostile towards anything Diane says or does. Pretty soon, the tension between them proves too much for either to handle properly.
The next segment is Parasite, which stars Grunberg as Hannah. Hannah’s stomach is constantly bothering her, and the meds the doctor prescribed don’t seem to be helping. Unfortunately, her attempts at reconnecting with Dr. Gillespie (Marissa Carpio) are thwarted at every turn. As the woman’s isolation grows, the voices telling her she’s doing something wrong not to feel better get louder. Is what’s bugging Hannah all in her mind, or is she really sick?
The final narrative of Bugs: A Trilogy is Bed Bugs. Elena (Grunberg again) wakes up one day and sees two not-so-little bites on her wrist. She’s convinced that her apartment has bed bugs, though her roommate and mom tell Elena she’s imagining it all. But sleepless night after sleepless night, Elena feels the little bloodsuckers biting and crawling on her.
“…sleepless night after sleepless night, Elena feels the little bloodsuckers biting and crawling…”
Aside from the lead actor in each story, a thematic thread ties all the narratives together. Diane has to remain kind through each obstinate act of her young charge. Despite Hannah’s insistence, the doctor refuses to listen to her concerns. Elena is not believed by those supposedly closest to her, despite her founded fears. Kisiel and Grunberg hold a mirror up to society’s hypocritical attitudes towards women. This gives all three stories a real-life intensity that adds to the dark undercurrent running through each of them.
As a showcase for Grunberg’s abilities, Bugs: A Trilogy is a homerun. She gives three markedly different but equally affecting performances. As Diane, the actor showcases kindness while still playing her frustrations believably. For Hannah, Grunberg is confused, unable to articulate her issues. She stands in stark contrast to the eloquent Diane. But it’s as Elena that the actor runs the gamut of every emotion. Her irritation that no one believes her is felt deeply. Her scared uncertainty translates to a character audiences want to see vindicated at the end.
Kisiel, who directed each entry, brings a distinct atmosphere to them all. Hatchling has a strong Tenebrae vibe with its use of long shadows and heavy lighting. Meanwhile, Parasite feels like a psychological thriller, as the filmmaker keeps the mystery of what is going on engaging. Bed Bugs is the most traditional horror offering here, with some jump scares (how does the mom just appear out of nowhere?) and frenzied editing. This gives the segment the most startles, though it is less eerie overall than the other two.
Bugs: A Trilogy is a fascinatingly original anthology with strong directing and a creepy atmosphere. The three central performances from Grunberg are all distinct, and she excellently portrays each of them. The unifying theme of how society treats women gives the entire production a much-needed and timely message.