by Jason Coffman
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The tone is set very early in Stuart Gordon’s Stuck: a title card informs us the film is based on true events, and then hip-hop music plays over a montage of people in an assisted living home being given their medicine. It’s immediately disorienting and really, really funny, the perfect way to open such a bizarre film. Stuart Gordon is perhaps still best known for directing the first Re-Animator, but his filmography has also strayed into non-horror territory, including an adaptation of David Mamet’s Edmond in 2005. While Stuck isn’t exactly a horror film, Gordon isn’t afraid to exploit the story’s gruesome possibilities to make audiences squirm.
Brandi (Mena Suvari) is a nurse in an assisted-living facility who is up for a raise if she can manage to keep her manipulative, bitchy boss (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stuart Gordon’s wife!) happy. The night she gets the news about her possible promotion, Brandi goes out to party with her drug-dealer boyfriend, Rashid (Russell Hornsby), and coworker, Tanya (Rakiya Bernard). After a few hours of drinking and pills, Brandi drives home, where she crosses paths with Tom (Stephen Rea). Tom’s day has been as bad as Brandi’s has been good—in the morning, before his job interview, he was kicked out of his apartment, and things went downhill from there. Brandi runs over Tom with her car while trying to use her cell phone and ends up driving home with him stuck in her windshield, severely injured but alive.
From there, the film follows Brandi as she attempts to deal with the problem by ignoring it, hoping Tom will die and Rashid will be able to help her dispose of his body. Meanwhile, Tom regains consciousness and struggles to get help or escape from the garage. The scenes of Tom trying to free himself are often grueling, with Gordon using queasily convincing makeup and sound effects to make sure the audience personally feels every bit of Tom’s struggle. Brandi, on the other hand, becomes increasingly less sympathetic and more unhinged as she frantically tries to come up with a way to get out of her predicament at any cost.
Stuck is completely unlike anything in theaters right now. It’s a jet-black, gory comedy about what happens when someone goes out of their way (and then some!) to avoid the consequences of their own actions. Stephen Rea is absolutely perfect as the downtrodden Tom, and Mena Suvari’s performance is inarguably the best of her career. The film is based on a true story and actually uses a surprising amount of that story’s facts as plot points. This adds another layer of unease to the exploitative, “tabloid” nature of the story, especially since the film is being released the same week that a police video from Hartford, Connecticut, was released showing a number of passers-by ignoring an old man laying in the street after a hit-and-run.
My only major complaint about Stuck is its seriously unsatisfying non-ending. The events unfold in a considerably different way (read: more violently and viscerally satisfying) than the real-life story, but the audience is still left to imagine the aftermath of it all. In a film so concerned with morbid detail, it feels like a major oversight. Still, Stuck is worth seeking out for anyone with the stomach for a good train wreck—you can’t look away, and that’s just how Gordon wants it. It’s easily one of the best films in Stuart Gordon’s career and one of the most unique and entertaining films of the year.
One last note—during the opening credits, I noticed a credit for Amicus Productions. Amicus was a British production company responsible for a lot of great horror films in the ’60s and ’70s, and apparently the company has been resurrected! Stuck is their first new production, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more original films from them in the future.
Jason Coffman is a freelance writer and film critic in Chicago.
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