That Ashley Judd is going buggy in this William Friedkin thriller is never in question; yet her and her co-stars' performances will draw you in


on May 25, 2007 by Annlee Ellingson
Hollywood icon William Friedkin's latest, Bug , the promotional campaign for which links its lineage to The Exorcist rather than The French Connection , is a bit baffling. What could have launched another of distributor Lionsgate's revenue-generating B-movie horror franchises instead is elevated by the pedigree of its director and star Ashley Judd to an arthouse exercise in the psychological thriller. The problem is that, for the audience, there's no psychological element at play.

Judd, continuing to depart from the woman-wronged roles that gave her top billing, here portrays rural Oklahoma waitress Agnes, dreading the return of her abusive ex Jerry (Harry Connick Jr.). She drinks and does drugs, and she looks it. Tension is immediately established by a series of prank phone calls in which the only sound on the other end is heavy breathing.

The tedious buildup to Jerry's arrival, however, is a MacGuffin. Rather, it's the odd drifter Peter (Michael Shannon) whom she's befriended that proves her undoing, as, soon after consummating their brief flirtation, the pair experiences an insect infestation. That the bugs in question are aphids—the very same creepy-crawlies that drove a Philip K. Dick character buggy in A Scanner Darkly —is one's first clue that there's something more at work here than the need for an exterminator. That and the fact that the audience itself never actually sees a bug.

The result, then, is that little here is psychologically engaging for the viewer. Instead, to witness vulnerable Agnes being pulled into a vortex of delusion and paranoia is akin to watching a car wreck.

However cliche, though, a car wreck is still a fascinating thing to watch, as is Bug , in large part due to the visceral performances. Particularly juicy are the brief scenes between Shannon, who originated the role in screenwriter Tracy Lett's play, and Connick Jr.—a clash of titans in which each man's respective power manifests in the opposite direction, inwardly and intellectually versus outwardly and physically.

Moreover, although its origins on the stage are clear—most of the action takes place in the cruddy environs of Agnes' fleabag motel room—it's a testament to Friedkin's expert hand that Bug never feels staged. From the opening shot's slow push from a bird's-eye view to the motor inn's parking lot to the liberal use of close-ups and rack focus, the film in its craft is purely cinematic. Distributor: Lionsgate
Cast: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Lynn Collins, Brian O'Byrne and Harry Connick Jr.
Director: William Friedkin
Screenwriter: Tracy Letts
Producers: Holly Wiersma, Kimberly C. Anderson, Malcolm Petal, Gary Huckabay, Michael Burns and Andreas Schardt
Genre: Dramatic thriller
Rating: R for some strong violence, sexuality, nudity, language and drug use
Running time: 102 min.
Release date: May 25, 2007

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