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A portrait of a descent into madness
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $27,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

June 30th, 2006: Agnes (Ashley Judd) is a lonely waitress with an abusive ex-husband (Harry Connick Jr.), who has just been released from prison on parole. Her close friend R. C. (Lynn Collins) has recently taken in a mysterious drifter named Peter (Michael Shannon), who seems harmless enough, but exudes a level of underlying danger. Peter and Agnes hit it off when they become acquainted and soon the stranger is living with her in her shady motel room. It seems that Peter’s Gulf War experience has left him with some rather unusual conspiracy theories. He has a peculiar obsession with bugs and even believes that the government has implanted several inside his body as part of his post-war treatment. Agnes begins to share his abnormal fantasy and the two develop an unhealthy relationship based on mutual paranoia. Completely immersed in their new ideology, they hole themselves up in the motel room as their behavior begins to descend further down into alarmingly fanatical inclinations that border on schizophrenia.

What to Expect: Tracy Letts adapted his own stage play to write the screenplay for the film. He was originally inspired by the Oklahoma City bombing and the shocking fact that it was carried out by Americans on American soil. Timothy McVeigh admitted to harboring anti-government sentiments ever since serving in the Gulf War and witnessing violent acts which he personally found difficult to comprehend. The event shaped the primary idea in the play – one of mounting and even crippling paranoia that grows beyond a person’s control.

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Director William Friedkin, who is responsible for at least two masterpieces of American cinema, The French Connection and The Exorcist, is helming this gritty psychological thriller. Some 90% of the action takes place in a single hotel room and Friedkin is no stranger to such stripped-down realism. His last film, the highly underrated The Hunted, also dealt with a tragic figure affected by the horrors of war. In that case it was the conflict in Bosnia. I found it a sensational portrait of pure hand-to-hand combat. No guns, no lasers, no CGI, no frivolous melodrama, just a taut mano-a-mano conflict between the two central characters. The classic The French Connection may contain the most infamous car chase scene in movie history, but the rest of the action was conducted with relative, character-driven minimalism. Similarly, the marathon exorcism scene in Friedkin’s celebrated horror film was handled with terrific use of the surround space in the cramped room that generated an unrelenting focus on the terror. Since Bug is being touted as a horror film after all, Friedkin may be the perfect director for the material. After a string of unsuccessful projects, this is perhaps his chance at another genuine critical and possibly commercial hit.

The two leads have been getting all the attention following early screenings of the film. For Ashley Judd, who has wiped off the make-up and taken on a relatively unflattering look, this may be the transformation that gets her some attention from the Academy Awards. Having traveled on the road with her family and having lived in tightly packed trailers, Judd instantly had some experiences to draw from. A personal history of abusive relationships made the role of Agnes easy for Judd to identify with. This may be a tailor-made role for her. Michael Shannon has one of those familiar faces that audiences recognize from time to time in various character parts, but never quite remember where they’ve seen before. He has appeared in films like Pearl Harbor, 8 Mile, and Bad Boys II, typically as an unfriendly antagonist of sorts. This could be his star-making role as he reprises the part he has already played before in the stage version of the story.

The film premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival to overwhelmingly fantastic reviews. It is being lauded as a disturbing horror film that explores the relentlessly destructive force that exists inside the characters’ minds. It is set primarily in one room, but Friedkin supposedly makes full use of every inch of space and every creepy audible sound. With extended, breathtaking shots, he focuses squarely on the performances of his main stars and generates a remarkably intense and claustrophobic atmosphere. Reportedly, Friedkin has made a very direct and austere picture that begins with a sense of general anxiety and escalates into what has been described as a ruthless and unyielding final 20 minutes. Again, there will probably be lots of ambiguity as to what is real and what isn’t and plenty of psychological exploration as the two main characters propel each other further into insanity.

In Conclusion: I simply love these types of thrillers that strip away the superficial nonsense and focus on the performances and on the essence of the underlying themes. This will be a simple, small-budget presentation of a complex subject matter that I expect will fully absorb the viewers that commit to the story – one of those startling cinematic experiences that is so compelling in its presentation of the terror that it is over before you even think about looking at the watch. On the other hand, the film has been said to contain a good amount of absurd humor, which should release some of the building tension. I think the general public will be scared off by this movie at first, but some should come around once the buzz picks up.

Similar Titles: The Fly, The Hunted
May 25th, 2007 (wide)
September 25th, 2007 (DVD)

Lions Gate Films

William Friedkin

Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr., Lynn Collins, Brian F. OByrne, Michael Shannon

Total: 61 vote(s).

Drama, Suspense

Click here to view site

Rated R for some strong violence, sexuality, nudity, language and drug use

102 min





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