Director: William Friedkin
Writer: Tracey Letts
Starring: Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon and Harry Connick Jr.
This was a film that I remember seeing the previews before other movies and thinking that I really wanted to see it. I knew the basic concept and had heard that it wasn’t all that good. I was still intrigued and finally got around to seeing it. The official synopsis is an unhinged war veteran holes up with a lonely woman in a spooky Oklahoma motel room. The line between reality and delusion is blurred as they discover a bug infestation.
We start off with images of how the film ends before cutting to Agnes White (Ashley Judd). The film does well in establishing her life. She is struggling to get by and doesn’t have a whole lot. Someone keeps calling her on the phone, but they don’t say anything. All she hears is breathing. She believes it is her ex-husband who is supposed to be in prison, but was granted early parole.
She works at a local bar with R.C. (Lynn Collins). R.C. is supposed to come over after work and they are going to party. She is going to go to an actual party afterwards and asks if Agnes wants to go. She declines. R.C. shows up to her place with a guy, Peter Evans (Michael Shannon). It turns out she just met him that night, but the three of them hang out at Agnes’ place.
The two women are drinking, smoking and using cocaine while Peter hangs out in the bathroom. R.C. is called away and heads to the party. The two of them hang out and he starts to reveal some things about himself. Back in the room, Peter hears the chirruping of a smoke detector. Agnes just thinks it is a cricket. He ends up knocking it off the ceiling and telling Agnes it contains a radioactive element that I’ve never heard of it. She starts to think that is why she isn’t feeling well. She allows Peter to stay as he doesn’t have anywhere to go.
She wakes up the next morning to coffee on the stove and someone in the shower. She thinks it is Peter, but it turns out to be her ex-husband, Jerry Goss (Harry Connick Jr.). The two of them get into an altercation and Peter returns. Jerry hits her before leaving and saying he will be back. Agnes is smitten by Peter and the two of them make love. She wants him to stay. Things take a turn that night when he thinks he is bitten by an aphid. He reveals that he was a former soldier and that experiments were performed on him. He thinks that there are more of these bugs. He is determined to help wipe them out and the two of them become codependent on each other.
This film has such an interesting concept. A doctor later in the film shows up and states that Peter has some personality disorders. My initial thought was that is where the film was going, but what I really like is that they never really establish what the truth is. I do like the ambiguity, because it really allows me to consider the evidence and make my own determination of what the film is trying to state. Being that he is a former soldier, especially one that states he was a lifer, I do think there is a bit of PTSD. It never really states if he saw actual combat or things that could have screwed him up. It could as easily be that he just has a mental disorder that really didn’t present until later in life.
I do think that this idea makes it much scarier. He truly believes that there is a bug infestation that is biting him. There is another part of this that is also said is that Agnes has been beaten down by life. She has a dependent personality so when Peter shows up and is treating her better than her ex, she falls hard. She starts to fall into his delusions, because he isolates her and through the stress, it could possible be happening. From other things I have seen and heard, I could definitely see that this could happen.
There were some issues I had with pacing. I do think part of this comes from the running time. It is approaching two hours and it is really just a one room film. Seeing that this was adapted from a stage play does make a lot of sense. I don’t think the editing of the film was bad though. I thought it does well at building tension as we see these two descend into madness. I do think that some of what we see could have been trimmed to tighten the film up. I will also say, I thought the ending was pretty haunting and fitting way to wrap it up.
This would bring me to the acting. I thought the two leads were great. I have kind of touched on the characters, but the performances really bring them to life. Judd is such a beautiful woman, but they did enough subtle things to make her look like she has lived the rough life that her character has. Her portrayal of a woman that is beaten down and just wanting to be happy. It makes it that much sadder when we see what it brings her to. Shannon plays his role amazingly as well. He comes off as odd from the beginning, but we see that he treats Agnes better than her ex did. The problem then becomes as he sinks into his madness, whether what is real and what’s not, we see that he is much worse for her. Connick and Collins also play both of their roles well.
Effects for the film were pretty interesting. I would have to say that they are probably all practical since there really wasn’t a need for CGI. There is some blood and I thought it looked solid. The rashes that are on both characters look quite real also. Something else I wanted to touch on is when the two have sunk into complete madness, the room is covered in aluminum foil and bug zappers. It gives this odd bluish light and it makes it feel much more eerie. I thought that was a good touch, especially for the ending.
Now with that said, this film I thought was pretty interesting look at what mental illness is and questioning what is happening. The performances from both of the leads are amazing and bring this film to life. I think there is enough ambiguity there to make you wonder if there are really bugs there or are Peter’s convictions making Agnes see them too. There are some pacing issues, but I think the editing overall is fine. There’s not a lot in the way of effects, but what is used is good. The use of lighting in the 3rd act is good. The score of the film really didn’t stand out, aside from what they think there is a helicopter coming after them. I liked that as we don’t know if it is real or not. Overall I would say that this film is above average. If this sounds like something you’d like, I’d definitely give it a viewing. The acting is worth the price of admission at least.
My Rating: 7 out of 10