The heart knows its own bitterness,
and no stranger shares its joy.
Agnes White (Ashley Judd) ekes out a living as a waitress at a lesbian honky-tonk in a small town in the western desert. She is filled with anxiety because Jerry (Harry Connick, Jr. ), the husband who has done prison time for abusing her, has just been released, and her telephone keeps ringing, but no one answers when she picks it up. She lives alone in a cheesy residence motel, with just R.C. (Lynn Collins) as a friend. R.C. introduces her to Peter Evans (Michael Shannon), a shy, soft spoken man, whom she invites to spend the night with her because he has no place to go.
Peter is polite and tells her he does not want to have sex with her, so she feels safe with him, especially when Jerry shows up, as violent as ever. Peter has an obsession with bugs, which he believes were implanted in him by the government when he was in the hospital following the Gulf War. The impressionable Agnes comes to believe him, and as the days go by, their shared obsession cuts her off, first from her best friend, and then possibly from the world itself. By the time that Peter obtains a microscope so that he can see what is infecting his bloodstream, Agnes is just as worried about hers. I suspect that her name is no accident, which as those of you familiar with Christian liturgy know, means “lamb.”
Director William Friedkin returns to the world of horror, his newest film every bit as intense as The Exorcist, though the horror is not supernatural this time. Screenwriter Tracy Letts based the script on his own play, but this is one time when it did not need to be “opened up,” most of the action taking place within Agnes’s motel room. By story’s end the paranoid pair have lined the walls and ceiling with aluminum foil to keep out radiation from government agents that they are convinced are out to get them. This film is not for everyone—it closed after just a week of screening in Cincinnati—but for those who want to see two actors working at the top of their form, Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon show us how frightening madness can be. No doubt it will soon be found in the Horror section of your local video store.