Movie News & Reviews

Judd, Shannon turn amazingly creepy in Friedkin's "Bug"

It's always dicey with these movies about people who are either onto some big conspiracy or are total delusional psychotics.

If the conspiracy's real, suddenly you're not all scared about the possibility that some of your own ideas might be completely loony. But if it turns out it's all in their heads, that means you just watched insane people babbling nonsense for the entire movie.

If I wanted to see confused people getting angry for no reason, I could just videotape myself getting up before noon some day.

"Bug" is in no real hurry to deal with the issue of delusion and reality. In fact, the new horror movie from William Friedkin, the guy who directed "The Exorcist" (but had nothing to do with the practical jokes masquerading as sequels), starts off in no real hurry at all.

A very used-up looking Ashley Judd lives in a run-down motel in the Oklahoma desert. Other than her job at a bar, her contact with the outside world is limited to booze and drug sessions with friend Lynn Collins and repeated phone calls with no one on the other line. It could be Judd's abusive ex-husband out on parole, but since the caller's not talking, there's just no way to know.

Though Judd doesn't like strangers, Collins brings her friend Michael Shannon by one night. A quiet, unobtrusive man without a home, Judd gives him a place to sleep on her couch. Lonely as she is, it's not long before he's promoted to her bed.

Shannon starts seeing bugs in the sheets. Judd can't see them and neither can we -- they're just that small, evidently -- but once he's fly-papered the room, stocked up on Raid, and told her he was the victim of a number of army experiments, she starts to see them, too.

It's a simple concept, and probably cost about as much to film as three frames of "Pirates 3," but "Bug" is flat-out creepy. After a short scene at the bar, the camera just doesn't leave Judd's house. There's no outside perspective. All we have is us, them and the bugs that may or may not exist.

The words "adapted from an off-Broadway play" could easily mean "they sit around and talk a lot," but the dialogue in "Bug" is sharp and its acting is impressive. Shannon and Judd don't just drop off a cliff into swinging-a-cat-over-your-head-style madness, they take it one step at a time. It's hard to pinpoint where exactly they veered into obsession, only that they're clearly no longer anyone you'd want to hang out with unless you're a big fan of scabby sores and the glow of bug-zappers.

It's the pacing that's the killer. All that quiet time at the start pays off when characters who seemed so normal and likable first get eccentric, then turn psychotic. As they try to figure out what's in them and who put it there, their paranoid monologues, alternate logic and violent moodiness result in over-the-top scenes that might be funny if they weren't so horrifying.

Claustrophobic, disturbing, a certified head-messer-upper, "Bug" is way too cramped up in Judd and Shannon's self-contained world for any rational analysis of their discoveries. Dodging the whole "are they right or are they just nuts" thing might feel like a copout, but this movie isn't about the conspiracy, it's about the believers.

Written and shot so far inside their heads you'll think you can see a brainstem, it may end up the most nerve-wrecking movie this year.

Grade: A-