If you have claustrophobia and/or fear insects, the last film you should see is "Bug." I'm not sure it's worth a trip even if you don't suffer from those maladies.
Based on the Obie-award winning play by Chicago playwright and actor Tracy Letts, "Bug" was first produced in London in 1996. William Friedkin, who directed the movie, makes no attempt to "open up" the drama. Almost all of it takes place inside a cheap – and I mean cheap – motel outside Oklahoma City.
Agnes (Ashley Judd) is trying to avoid her recently paroled ex-husband (Harry Connick Jr.), who tracks her down anyway. His periodic forays inside her inner sanctum are hair-raising.
To the rescue, it would seem, comes Peter (Michael Shannon), a rather sweet lost soul who is brought over to the motel by a friend of Agnes's. He's looking for a place to crash for awhile and, although his unblinking stare and monotone voice are off-putting, there's also something oddly protective about him.
Agnes is certainly in need of protection.
In addition to her fears about her ex, she also nurses a private grief about her young son, who disappeared from a grocery cart 10 years before. The sudden appearance of Peter has, for her, a kind of mythic resonance.
In time, they develop a full-blown folie à deux. Peter is a Gulf War veteran who claims he was the subject of grotesque human experiments by the military. He is certain the motel room is infested with blood-sucking aphids and becomes increasingly intent on protecting himself and Agnes from them.
Because she wants to believe him, Agnes soon succumbs to his paranoia. You know she's a goner when she exults, "I am the super mother bug!" If this film had any chance of becoming a hit, I would expect that line to be emblazoned on women's T-shirts everywhere.
I doubt the film will strike much of a chord with anybody, though, except perhaps with deranged entomologists and the people who love them. Friedkin does an excellent job of keeping the action inside that ultra-dingy motel room cinematic, but to what end?
As the fury escalates and the blood spurts and Peter goes in for some do-it-yourself dentistry, you begin to wonder what it's all for.
If Letts, who says his play was prompted by the Oklahoma City bombing, is trying to make some kind of comment about home-grown terrorism, he lost me along the way.
Judd has been typecast so often as a lady in distress that "Bug" is in many ways the apotheosis of her career. She does a good job of showing Agnes's encroaching craziness, which takes the outward form of hypernormality.
Shannon, who has performed the role many times on stage, is an imposing presence – not for nothing was he cast as the rescuing marine who strode into the debris in Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center."
But after awhile I felt sorrier for Shannon than for Peter.
Like everybody else involved in this production, 'Bug' has made him buggy. Grade: C-
•Rated R for some strong violence, sexuality, nudity, language and drug use.