BUG (2007)

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BUG (director: William Friedkin; screenwriter: Tracy Letts/based on the play by Mr. Letts; cinematographer: Michael Grady; editor: Darrin Navarro; music: Brian Tyler; cast: Ashley Judd (Agnes White), Michael Shannon (Peter Evans), Lynn Collins (RC), Brian F. O’Byrne (Dr. Sweet), Harry Connick Jr. (Jerry Goss); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Holly Wiersma/Kimberly C. Anderson/ Malcolm Petal/Gary Huckabay/Michale Burns/Andreas Schardt; Lionsgate; 2007)
“By the second act it has a case of diarrhea of the mouth.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Exorcist made more sense and was scarier, even though its demonic-possession theme didn’t make too much sense. Tracy Letts’s adaptation of his 2004 off-Broadway play is a study of paranoia masquerading as a modern-day horror story or an impossible love story. William Friedkin (“Exorcist”/”The French Connection”/”Cruising”) keeps the low-budget film interesting through the first act by introducing the edgy characters while they’re at their best, but by the second act it has a case of diarrhea of the mouth and in the third act it goes into a meltdown as it overstays its creepy motel visit and becomes bugged without much sting.

Agnes (Ashley Judd) is a lonely divorcée, working as a barmaid in a honky-tonk and living in the rundown Rustic Motel on the outskirts of an unnamed rural Oklahoma town. She’s haunted by the disappearance ten years ago of her six-year-old son while she was shopping with him in a grocery store in Austin, Texas. Her ex-husband, Jerry (Harry Connick Jr.), is a brutish psychopath who intimidates her and she has a court order preventing him from entering her premises. But that order has proven useless in the past. Jerry is unexpectedly paroled, even though he was sentenced for murder, and heads straight for her place. Her only friend is R.C. (Lynn Collins), a heavily tattooed on both arms lesbian, who informs her that she’s got a man at the bar she wants to introduce her to. The man is Peter (Michael Shannon), a well-built but mysteriously strange, twitchy and quiet character who spends the night in her room after telling her he’s uninterested in sex. He lets on he’s psychic, who just wants to be her “friend.” It turns out he’s an army returnee from the Gulf War, who has some obvious mental problems and has gone AWOL. He’s got an itch under his skin, and soon he’s ranting about bugs being all over the place (he finds an almost invisible aphid on the bed); he tells of being an unwitting guinea pig for secret experiments conducted on him and other Gulf War veterans by army doctors. Agnes turns out to be such a lost soul that she can’t let go of this damaged soul, who believes the bugs are part of a mind-controlling experiment, and they screw and move in together. But after their momentary sexual ecstasy, they spend their time trying to kill bugs in the dinghy motel room. I guess next to talking to herself and having her abusive ex-husband around, this self-mutilating oddball looks like the catch of the day. On top of all this, Agnes receives crank phone calls that has no one answer when she picks up the phone. By the time the pot smoking Dr. Sweet (Brian F. O’Byrne) arrives to a motel room wrapped entirely in tinfoil, the film, which never resolves that it’s no longer a play, has no great dramatic moment to offer as a payoff. What goes for a serious take on the ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ is dumbed down to be construed only as something insanely funny, that is if it were funny. Instead, it ends like most second-rate B-films do, in a pyrotechnical resolution. This made me wonder what its point was, as all I could take away from the film was that Ashley played a role we haven’t seen her perform before (at last getting away from those mediocre thrillers) and she passes this acting exercise of getting ‘down and dirty’ with flying colors.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”