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'Bug' Out: Friedkin's Latest Scratches Thriller Itch

Gone buggy: Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon see crawlies everywhere in <em>Bug</em>.
Gone buggy: Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon see crawlies everywhere in Bug.

Bug, the new psychological thriller from director William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection), got its start as a paranoia-driven stage play by actor-writer Tracy Letts (Killer Joe).

The film won the international critics' prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006, but it's only now getting a U.S. release. It features Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr. and Lynn Collins, as well as Michael Shannon, who starred in the Off-Broadway production.

Movies based on stage plays can seem, well, stagy — or else they get opened out in ways that dilute the poetic compression that makes them great theater.

But Bug, which centers on the shared madness of two lonely misfits who build a shared sanctuary and then literally bug out, retains that compression: It's moody and expansive — a real movie — but it feels like being trapped, in real time, with people whose backs are firmly against the wall.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

David Edelstein is a film critic for New York magazine and for NPR's Fresh Air, and an occasional commentator on film for CBS Sunday Morning. He has also written film criticism for the Village Voice, The New York Post, and Rolling Stone, and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times' Arts & Leisure section.