Bug

2007, Movie, R, 102 mins

Review

BUG
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William Friedkin and Tracy Letts' adaptation of Letts' stage play is a ludicrous foray into psychological horror in which a psychotic Gulf War veteran infects a lonely Oklahoma cocktail waitress with his paranoia and, quite possibly, his bugs.

Having barely survived the double tragedy of an abusive marriage and a lost child, Agnes (Ashley Judd) now lives holed up in the Rustic Motel, one of the few lights to be seen on a lonely stretch of dry, Oklahoma highway. She works as a waitress at a local bar with her friend, R.C. (Lynn Collins), and spends most of her off hours freebasing coke, downing vodka and Cokes and screw-top bottles of cheap red wine, and avoiding her abusive ex-husband, Jerry (Harry Connick Jr.), a bully just out of prison after serving two years for armed robbery. Agnes has been getting a lot of anonymous, late-night phone calls recently — calls she assumes are coming from Jerry — and the drugs and booze have made her jumpy. So she's initially wary of Peter Evans (Michael Shannon), a quiet but intense drifter whom R.C. brings to Agnes' motel room for a little party. After a few drinks and a number of lines, Agnes begins to loosen up, and when Peter lets on that he needs a place to stay, she offers him the couch. The next morning, after a harassing visit from Jerry, Agnes invites Peter into her bed, and that's when she learns a little bit more about the man to whom she's opened her home and heart: Peter was stationed in Syria during the Gulf War, and claims that he was fed experimental drugs by the U.S. military. Back in the States, he was admitted to a hospital where he served as a guinea pig in sinister experiments involving infectious diseases and tracking devices. Peter somehow managed to escape, and now "they" are after him. Shortly after sex, Peter claims he's being bitten by some kind of bug, and tells Agnes that the motel room must be infested with some kind of tiny field lice that only he can see. Agnes, who's been drinking and hitting the pipe pretty hard, begins to see them as well. Peter stocks up on Raid and pest strips, but it's no use: With his skin covered in scratches, sores and holes where he's begun to pick at the bugs that are now burrowing into his skin, Peter soon discovers that the insects are actually coming from within his own body. Peter pulls out his toolbox for a radical delousing, and he and Agnes embark on a rapid descent into shared madness.

Aside from a few pretty impressive helicopter shots, Friedkin's very queasy film adaptation of Letts' play remains resolutely stagebound, with a clearly discernable three-act structure and theatrical-looking special effects, sets and, at times, lighting. The artificial space Friedkin creates inside Aggie's motel room is no doubt intentional, but what must have felt tense and claustrophobic on stage within the confines of a small theater only looks ridiculous on screen. As the situation within Room 7 worsens, what began as a very well-acted character piece about the effects of loneliness, fear, grief and isolation (Judd is actually very good for the film's first half) devolves into an absurd bloodbath. By the time Agnes rears up and screams, "I am the super mother bug!", you know it's checkout time. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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