• The director of a horror classic serves up sharp performances laced with aphids, paranoia and conspiracies.
Director: William Friedkin
Run time: 1:41
Cast: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick Jr., Lynn Collins, Brian F. O'Byrne
From The Exorcist director William Friedkin, this wordy paranoia thriller plays like a bizarre X-Files more than it does the creature-based horror that the trailers suggest. That's likely to frustrate much of the teenage audience who will go to see it, as it doesn't follow the rules of typical popcorn thrillers, but those who appreciate something more cerebral are rewarded. At least the first third of the movie is rural drama rather than thriller as we meet Agnes (Ashley Judd), a down-and-out bartender living in a trashy room at the "Rustic Motel" in small-town Oklahoma, and Peter (Michael Shannon), a drifter and former soldier who wanders in with Agnes' gal pal. The two share a heightened vulnerability — Agnes is haunted by the loss of her missing son and emotionally tortured by an abusive ex (a buffed-up Harry Connick Jr.), while Peter is secretly on the run and tortured in a bizarre fashion that becomes apparent as the movie unfolds. Desperation brings these lonely souls together in scenes that sing with realism and sharp dialogue; one can get lost in the connection being made in this room of the Rustic Motel, where almost the entire movie takes place. (The wordiness is due in no small part to the movie's roots in the off-Broadway play by Tracy Letts; Shannon also played Peter for the stage.) Sheepish yet intelligent, Peter eventually reveals to Agnes his obsession with bugs that he believes are inside him as the result of military experimentation, and Agnes soon finds herself living amongst cans of Raid and an obstacle course of fly paper as Peter mutilates himself to rid his body of aphids (one painfully graphic scene is nothing short of unwatchable). Agnes becomes swept up in Peter's grand conspiracy theory, and this is the story's one stumble; it's never really believable that the vulnerable but scrappy female lead would make such a leap against logic, and particularly with the ferocity displayed here. The final act is unabashedly and appropriately over-the-top for an incredibly ballsy piece of cinema that is punctuated by beautifully emotional performances by Judd and, especially, Shannon. As a study of paranoia, it gets under the skin, but it's the human element of Bug that really thrills.