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</script></div>{/googleAds}The disappearing American institution known as the roadside motel gets its second starring role in as many months in the big screen adaptation of Tracy Letts' off-Broadway play, Bug. Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson thrilled us in last month's Vacancy, which featured a seedy motel room that doubled as a studio for snuff films. In Bug, Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon fight what appears to be an insect infestation in a similarly rundown motor court. What's significant about this is that the makers of both of these films understand that the most effective kind of horror often comes from tiny little intimate settings and doesn't necessarily have to rely on gigantic set pieces with bloated Hollywood budgets. Bug is an extremely disturbing little film, yet it features only 5 actors and basically one set.

You'll find very little blood and gore here and certainly no foam-rubber monsters or Saw-like horror effects in Bug. And you may not even see any bugs. But what you will experience is a taut little character-driven thriller that banks its entire success on great acting. Director William Friedkin who also helmed The Exorcist and The French Connection, knows that without such strong performances this thing could very easily have fallen over the precipice of edgy horror and into pure camp. He picked the perfect actors and he gets top-notch performances from them all.

Ashley Judd, nearly unrecognizable in her sleazy role as the bedraggled barmaid Agnes, is an emotionally crippled wreck who lost her six year-old son several years ago and now fears a visit from her abusive ex, Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr.) who was recently furloughed from prison. She finds a kindred spirit in Peter (Michael Shannon), a drifter with an equally damaged soul. The two shack up in her dingy Somewhere, Oklahoma motel room.

Peter is a soft-spoken but wigged-out soldier just back from a military stint in the Middle East. There's a boyish and innocent charm about him as he speaks with a simple voice not unlike a cross between Sling Blade Karl and Forrest Gump. His amiable and non-threatening nature eventually wins Agnes over as he's the only thing stable in her miserable life. He even protects her when Jerry comes calling with evil intentions. But we just know that somehow Peter won't be good for her.

Matters begin to slowly disintegrate once Peter discovers what he believes to be an aphid-like insect in their bedding. He eventually convinces Agnes that the bugs are a government-sponsored conspiracy to monitor his movements. Although we never see any of the bugs, Judd and Shannon do a hell of a job convincing us that they exist. It's this uncertainty that creates an environment of discomfort for the viewer. Are they real or are they not? It doesn't matter because it's the movie itself that you feel crawling up the back of your neck. Friedkin's claustrophobic environment is fertile ground for the forthcoming descent into delusional paranoia and schizophrenia.

Bug won't be liked by everybody. Its marketing campaign has been a little misleading as Lions Gate Films is clearly going after the Hostel and Saw crowds. But unfortunately these are the very audiences that will be the most displeased. There's not a lot of the stuff that these audiences like blood, torture, horror, or gore. Bug's effectiveness comes from an exploration of the volatile scenario that erupts when the mentally unstable mix with the emotionally vulnerable. I'm not sure if schizophrenia is contagious, but if it is, I just witnessed one frightening scenario of how it might spread. And it ain't a pretty sight!

As I returned home after viewing Bug, I noticed a small trail of ants on my front porch. After a quick trip to the garden supply store. that problem was eliminated with the heavy application of a DDT-like insecticide. One can never be too cautious!


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 1.85:1

Subtitles: None

Language and Sound: Closed Captioned; English: Dolby Digital 5.1

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; deleted scenes; featurette.

* Commentary -
o Feature-length commentary with director William Friedkin.
* Featurette -
o "Bug: An Introduction"
* Interview
o A discussion with William Friedkin.

Number of discs: - 1- Keepcase Packaging