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Stuck (2008)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Screaming, Yelling, Bleeding and Crying Game"
4 stars

“Stuck” comes billed as a horror film and while that is certainly true, it is a little bit misleading. For one thing, it isn’t just a horror film--it can also be seen as a mordant and angry bit of social commentary, a jet-black comedy and a two-character dramatic piece. More importantly, it is a bit misleading to simply call it a horror film because it doesn’t contain any of the stringy-haired ghosts, masked mad slashers or garden-variety torture freaks that have sadly come to define the genre in the minds of many in the last few years. Instead, it takes fears that everyone can recognize and understand--everything from social and economic concerns to the notion of slowly and painfully dying with no one around willing or able to lift a finger to help you--and mercilessly applies the metaphorical thumbscrews to the point where even the hardiest fear fanatics may find themselves squirming uncomfortably in their seats over how relentlessly and ruthlessly these everyday terrors have been depicted here.

The film opens by intercutting between two people whose lives are going in drastically different directions. One is Tom Bardo (Stephen Rea), a middle-aged man who has recently lost his job and who, when we meet him, now finds himself homeless after being kicked out of his apartment for not paying his rent. The other is Brandi (Mena Suvari), a young woman who has just gotten a big promotion at the nursing home where she works. The two have nothing in common but they eventually come together in a most unexpected way--after a night of celebrating her promotion with booze, drugs and dancing, a distracted Brandi hits Tom with her car with such force that he becomes embedded in her windshield. In a panic, Brandi somehow manages to make it back to her home without anyone noticing the person sticking out of her windshield and she puts the car in her garage while assuring Tom that she is going to call for help. Once she gets inside, however, she begins to realize that if she does call for help, she will likely find herself in big trouble and, more importantly, she can likely kiss that promotion goodbye. Therefore, she decides to simply let Tom writhe in agony in her garage until he finally dies rather than accept responsibility for her actions. Why yes, now that you mention it, the film was inspired by that notorious case in Texas a few years ago in which the above did happen, though the film ends in a manner considerably different from how it did in real life.

“Stuck” was directed by Stuart Gordon, the Chicago theatrical director who launched himself into the annals of splatter-film history with his 1985 debut effort, the hilariously grotesque H.P. Lovecraft adaptation “Re-Animator.” Unfortunately, Gordon was never able to quite capitalize on the notoriety engendered by that film and while he has worked steadily over the years, his efforts have ranged from the good (“From Beyond”) to the bad (“Space Truckers”) to the inexplicable (he co-wrote “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” and was scheduled to direct it until the stress of dealing with Disney executives allegedly inspired an incident in which he supposedly burst a blood vessel during a story meeting and resigned from the project for health reasons). A couple of years ago, however, he bounced back with a vengeance with his screen adaptation of David Mamet’s stage play “Edmond,” a searing drama in which the anger and frustrations that have been welling up inside a seemingly ordinary man (William H. Macy) explode over the course of one long and violent night. Now he has returned with this oddity and transforms what could have been a ghoulish one-joke premise into a surprisingly complex work that allows him to remind us that he is capable of doing more than spilling blood and guts on the screen. Working from a screenplay from John Strysik, he has presented a bitterly funny and genuinely angry portrait of a contemporary culture that has become so debased and selfish that it has become easier to refuse to aid a dying person for fear that it might inconvenience your own life in some way. Working with his two main actors, he has presented us with a pair of surprisingly strong and effective performances--Rea quietly makes you acutely aware of every excruciating moment of Tom’s existence, both before and after his encounter with the windshield, while Suvari (in the best role that she has had since “American Beauty” all those years ago) pulls off the difficult trick of playing an ostensibly heartless monster in such a way that you almost find yourself understanding why she chooses to do what she does. At the same time, however, Gordon has not lost his touch for presenting the grisly stuff in a bloody and blackly funny manner--the scenes in which Rea slowly and painfully attempts to extricate himself have a visceral power to them that give them far more impact than anything on display in any of the “Saw” or “Hostel” movies.

“Stuck” only steps wrong in its final minutes as the story derails into an over-the-top climax that seems as if it was lifted wholesale from a lesser episode of “Masters of Horror”--it isn’t awful, I suppose, but it just doesn’t quite fit the tone of the first 75 minutes or so. (That said, I will admit that it does provide the kind of audience catharsis that simply wouldn’t have existed if Gordon and Strysik had stuck to what really happened.) And yet, those first 75 minutes or so are so strong and sure that I was more than happy to cut it a little slack for muffing the landing a bit. Unlike many of the box-office behemoths, “Stuck” is a small film that probably won’t get much play outside of some big cities but if you do get an opportunity to see it--either in the theater or, more likely, on DVD in a few months, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Unlike too many recent films that leave you feeling nothing as the end credits roll, “Stuck” will make you laugh (provided that you have a taste for dark humor)and it will make you angry (provided that you have even the slightest bit of a soul or compassion for your fellow man). Oh yeah--if you are squeamish, it will definitely make you squeam.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16414&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/06/08 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Florida Film Festival For more in the 2008 Florida Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2008 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/26/19 Ajpwales Very good thriller. Well acted. 5 stars
8/07/17 danR The premise is the epitome of absurdity, horror, and humor; and good acting makes it work. 4 stars
10/12/08 Matt C Wow, i liked it, but NBF is right. She even told a friend she hit "this white guy" laughing 4 stars
6/17/08 Sully Good,tight,horror fick.Economical story telling, more directors should take note. 4 stars
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  30-May-2008 (R)
  DVD: 07-Oct-2008


  DVD: 07-Oct-2008

Directed by
  Stuart Gordon

Written by
  John Strysik

  Mena Suvari
  Stephen Rea
  Russell Hornsby
  Rukiya Bernard

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