Bug is a great film until it becomes a terrible one. Director William Friedkin (of Exorcist infamy) is an effective manipulator of scale at the outset, burrowing from the edges of generality as his camera hovers above a barren landscape, until it nestles within the low-ceilinged claustrophobia of its white trash protagonist Agnes White (Ashley Judd). Judd owns the film for the first half of two very distinctly toned parts. Initially, it’s the engaging story of a woman in recovery from an abusive husband, whose return coincides with the appearance of charming but creepy stranger Peter Evans, played note perfect by Michael Shannon. Their odd relationship (consummated by the most fantastic split screen double exposure, gauzy throwback-jersey of a love scene I’ve seen in decades) has a knife’s edge tension. As Peter’s identity remains unresolved, Harry Connick Jr’s slightly cartoonish but effectively threatening ex-husband stalker forms the third point of a bizarre love triangle.
Peter’s insistence that the apartment is infested with bugs (after they first have sex), begins as a nervous tic, then quickly descends into full-blown hysteria punctuated by a self-parodic bed-thrashing scene that would do Linda Blair proud. By the time we arrive at the Armageddon atmosphere and Judd’s downward swirling paranoiac’s exposition of the plot against them, the story has traveled too great a distance, leaving its audience behind.