- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

The psychological horror film “Bug” is two movies in one, like “Grindhouse” but at half the running time and one-tenth the geek factor.

Movie 1 is a taut character study of a woman trying to avoid her ex-husband while embracing a disturbing new lover. Movie 2 lets the stars run amok, like an acting class taught by a post-“Scent of a Woman” Al Pacino.

Having two disparate moods run in succession shouldn’t work, but “Bug” delivers enough originality to make it worth a look.

Just don’t look too closely. Things get rather disgusting once the titular bugs make their appearance.

Or do they?

Ashley Judd, her career still recovering from a string of inane thrillers, plays a frightened young woman named Agnes living out of a motel room. She’s trying to steer clear of her abusive ex-husband (Harry Connick Jr. in a sharply delineated performance). He just finished serving a jail sentence and keeps calling her room and hanging up.

Her gal pal introduces Agnes to Peter (Michael Shannon), a sad sack whose shy demeanor wins over Agnes. He stays the night in Agnes’ motel room at her suggestion and, in no short order, begins living there.

That doesn’t please the ex, who comes calling one day and makes it known he doesn’t want anyone making time with his girl.

Meanwhile, Peter starts complaining about bugs in the motel room even though Agnes can’t see what he’s talking about.

End of movie 1.

The rest slides precipitously downhill, or uphill if you’ve got a hankering for scenery eating. Peter declares war on the bugs, and Agnes falls further under his spell.

Working from Tracy Lett’s off-Broadway play, director William Friedkin of “The Exorcist” fame uses his raw materials wisely. His best artistic tool is Mr. Shannon’s compelling face, which transforms from wounded to ferocious within a tight time frame. Without him, “Bug” wouldn’t fly.

Mr. Friedkin deftly sustains the sense of isolation within the motel room, making it easier to empathize with some pretty disturbed characters. Miss Judd takes care of the rest, offering what her peers would declare a “brave” performance. It’s rigorously unglamorous, and she makes Agnes’ inability to cope with life tangible if not wholly believable.

“Bug” also contains the most disturbing dental scene since Sir Laurence Olivier asked us, “Is it safe?”

The first part of “Bug” hints at a greater meaning, a hidden purpose that will hit us just as the main characters veer toward insanity.

That such a message is never delivered is a letdown, but the journey is so darn peculiar it’s hard to dismiss this “Bug.”

**1/2

TITLE: “Bug”

RATING: R (Nudity, sexual situations, gore, violence and adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by William Friedkin. Written by Tracy Letts from his own play.

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

WEB SITE: https://bugthemovie.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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