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cast: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick Jr, Lynn Collins, and Brian F. O'Byrne

director: William Friedkin

98 minutes (18) 2006
widescreen ratio 16:9
Lions Gate DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Gary McMahon
Paranoia, military experiments, post-traumatic stress syndrome, twisted love affairs, insect infestation. All of these things have been examined in other films, but never in quite the same way as William Friedkin's Bug, a film as perplexing as it is brilliant.

Based on a stage-play, the screenplay was adapted by the original writer, Stacey Letts, and a fine job he does in transposing the action from an intimate stage setting to the more expansive world of film. The director of such classics as The French Connection and The Exorcist proves he has not lost his touch, and delves as deep as he can into the madness on show.

Agnes White (Ashley Judd) is a lonely, traumatised alcoholic living in a seedy motel room; hiding away from a violent ex-lover (Harry Connick Jr), since their son went missing in a supermarket. She drowns her days in drink and works nightshifts in a gay bar with her friend R.C. (Lynn Collins), who introduces her to a strange childlike man named Peter (Michael Shannon).

Peter claims to have been in the army. He is strange and needy, but Agnes is drawn to him, not least because he seems to need someone to take care of him - and she needs someone to take care of. Slowly Peter's identity crumbles, and Agnes is taken along with him: they begin to see an infestation of bugs that no one else can; they cling to each other as their sanity slips into terrifying behavioural extremes; and when the mysterious Dr Sweet (Brian F. O'Byrne) comes calling, they are sucked into a world of conspiracy and nightmare.

The main performances are uniformly brilliant - Judd is a revelation, while Shannon crafts a character of such unique personality traits and mannerisms that the viewer simply cannot look away, even when things begin to fall apart. This film is not for everyone. It is emotionally brutal, unflinching in its few scenes of violence, and buzzes with a strange intensity that drags you into the darker recesses of the characters' psyches. Rarely does such a high-profile Hollywood director dare to take risks like this, and Friedkin's efforts deserve to be seen.

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