* * 1/2
The first two acts of this film are expertly crafted. Billy Friedkin creates a feeling of overall paranoia, and lets it build for quite some time before the action starts, much like he did in the first act of The Exorcist. Like The Exorcist the questioning of certain foundational beliefs about reality are questioned, and the tense psychological relationship between the two characters keeps the film extremely engrossing. As an adaptation of a play, the film at times feels to faithful, including what are effectively act breaks, and some monologues that seem far too theatrical. Michael Shannon is a perfect fit for his part, and really does some amazing physical acting. Ashley Judd isn't as consistent, she is good at times, and at times a little over the top. One of the film's more glaring flaws, is that for a film that is supposed to take place in Oklahoma we see a lot of mountains, like 10,000 foot mountains.
Ok, now to the meaty part of the review. This is a film that will probably suffer audience backlash from ill-advised marketing. This is not a horror film in the sense of the horror genre. This is a psychological drama, about two lonely, disaffected people who find someone to be with, but lose their grip on reality in a mutual obsession to fuel their companionship. I can't remember the last time I saw an engrossing psychological drama, about a relationship, in an American film. For that reason alone this is a refreshing film. However, this is by the definition of horror, a very horrific film. What makes the film so frightening is how plausible the scenario is. Having worked with Vets suffering from Schizophrenia (like the Peter character) this film is a nightmare scenario, but a realistic one nonetheless. The film goes a little too far in making it's point with it's inevitable conclusion, and could have done without the last 5 or so minutes, which end up feeling quite absurd, and come across almost ironic in tone when compared to the minimalism of the rest of the film. I say minimalist, not restrained, because there is a difference in not showing a lot, and showing the right amount, and Friedkin does quite well showing the right amount of violence, but shows us too much psychotic behavior. We have empathy for these characters, but by showing us more of their psychotic behavior than necessary, the feeling almost becomes one of mockery, if not exploitation.