Bug [2002/I]

William (The Exorcist, The French Connection) Friedkin directed this harrowing portrait of slow-boiling paranoia about a lonely waitress (Ashley Judd) whose world spirals out of control after meeting a charismatic but damaged drifter (Michael Shannon). Said drifter fills the gulf of loneliness that has swallowed Agnes (Judd) whole as she struggles to stay afloat in a backwater desert town; gradually, Shannon reveals that his stint as a soldier in the Middle East has left him infested with microscopic bugs that he believes are part of a government conspiracy. The force of his conviction (combined with the horrific physical self-abuse he endures) slowly persuade Agnes that she, too, is infested, and the pair undergo a gruesome mental and physical meltdown. Based on the theatrical production by Tracey Letts (who also wrote the screenplay), Bug has a hard time escaping its stage origins (much of the action takes place in one dingy motel room), but Friedkin ramps up the intensity to near uncomfortable levels, and Judd and Shannon (recreating his performances in the New York and London productions) are more than up to the challenge. Their fearless turns are well-matched by Harry Connick, Jr., as Agnes' creepy ex-husband and Brian F. O'Byrne as a medic who may or may not be part of Shannon's shadowy government cabal. Viewers should be forewarned that the violence is intense and often bloody; those that find insects unsettling should avoid at all costs. -- Paul Gaita

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