by Jason Coffman
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Over the past few years, there have been a number of films that seek to replicate a very specific type of cinema from the past. Some of these, like Scott Sanders’s Black Dynamite, are simultaneously loving reproductions and parodies of the era they portray. Others, like Anna Biller’s Viva and Ti West’s The House of the Devil, seek to become indistinguishable from the films of the era from which they draw inspiration. Naturally, some of these have been considerably less successful than others, such as R.W. Goodwin’s Alien Trespass, which nailed the 50’s sci-fi rubber monster but not much else. Steve Balderson’s Stuck! seems to be a similar stab at creating a new classic for an old genre— in this case, women in prison films— but the result is something quite different.
Daisy (Starina Johnson) is a shopgirl who lives with her sick mother (September Carter). One day Mama decides to shoot herself, and Daisy tries to stop her. In the ensuing struggle, Mama is shot dead and nosy Next Door Neighbor Lady (Karen Black) thinks she’s seen a murder. Based on the Next Door Neighbor Lady’s testimony, Daisy is sent to prison and sentenced to hang. Once she goes to jail, she meets a crew of tough-broad inmates and a nasty guard, all the while insisting on her innocence. After a miraculous accident puts Daisy face-to-face with death, she becomes a new woman. Meanwhile, Next Door Neighbor Lady becomes more and more uncertain about what she saw, and whether or not Daisy really did mean to kill her mother. Will she do something about it? And would the new Daisy even want to leave prison if she could?
Stuck! absolutely nails one aspect of its tribute: the dialogue. Nearly every character with a speaking part gets a killer monologue at some point during the film, and even the less dense scenes are packed with hard-boiled lines perfect for chewing for all they’re worth. However, this also leads to one of the film’s biggest missteps: it’s extremely talky, and often feels very much like a stage play. This feeling is compounded by the fact that much of the film’s action takes place on a small three-cell prison set in what appears to be the smallest women’s prison ever built. Still, it’s a treat to see these actresses interact with each other, including a virtually unrecognizable Mink Stole as Esther, the cell block’s religious loony.
While Stuck! initially seems like a straightforward tribute to familiar genre films, mimicking their cadences and story beats, the film eventually transforms into something quite different. The overheated dialogue and acting start to take on more serious emotional undercurrents, and suddenly what initially seemed like a comedic tweak on a familiar guilty pleasure takes a hard left turn into more dramatic territory. It’s a credit to Starina Johnson’s portrayal of Daisy that she carries off this massive shift in tone largely on her own. By the end, it’s hard to recognize Stuck! as the same film you started watching.
Anyone who wanders into Stuck! looking for low-budget exploitation thrills is likely to be disappointed. This is ultimately Stuck!’s greatest strength and biggest shortcoming— if you’re looking for what the DVD cover is advertising, this really isn’t the film for you. If you’re looking for something more substantial that takes you unexpected places, though, you may well want to give Stuck! a chance.
Stuck! was released on DVD by Ariztical Entertainment on Tuesday, November 9th. Learn more about the film at the official Stuck! web site.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org.
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