When asked to name some of my favourite directors, Stuart Gordon is a name that never seems to come up. And yet he is director of the most fondly remembered adaptations of HP Lovecraft with the likes of 'Reanimator' and 'From Beyond'; whilst in the past decade since 'Dagon' he seems to have hit a creative high with the likes of 'King of the Ants' and 'Edmond'. And confirming this hot streak is 'Stuck', a film which showcases the director working at the very peak of his powers.
Inspired by a true story, the film tells of a young nurse named Brandi (Mena Suvari, sporting ridiculous braided hair) who is tantalised by prospects of promotion but has trouble reconciling her work with her out-of-hours love of partying and drug-taking. Driving home late one night, she is involved in a hit and run accident with Tom (the ever-reliable Stephen Rea), a middle-aged down-and-out who has just been made homeless following redundancy. This is, however, no ordinary accident, and her ill-advised attempts to cover it up are made somewhat tricky by the fact that the poor victim remains steadfastly stuck in her windshield.
To say any more would be to do the film a disservice, as much of the delight of the film comes from the way in which the film unpredictably keeps the audience wondering just how bad things are going to get for everyone. Working from a story by Gordon, screenwriter John Strysik has great fun piling on the twists, ironies and bad judgement calls as events get inexorably more and more extreme. The tension builds slowly and surely as the film keeps catching the audience off guard, and if there comes a point when it moves from 'real-world' plausibility into 'movie-world' plausibility, by that time you're so wrapped up in the drama that it doesn't matter.
As in 'King of the Ants', Gordon's penchant for making bloody violence genuinely hurt (a flair he shares with David Cronenberg) is used to terrific effect here – oh yes, you will squirm! The practical gore effects are terrifically realised, but not so over-played as to become excessively cartoonish. In fact, a good proportion of the horror of the film comes more from the characters and their actions than from simple bloodletting.
Now, some might say that having Mena Suvari in a film is horror enough (presumably those who sat through 'Day of the Dead'), but under Gordon's direction she gives probably the best performance of her career so far here. On the page, Brandi is not a particularly likeable character, yet in Suvari's hands she is strangely sympathetic – initially at least. And whilst the script keeps making the character take action that stretch believability a touch, the actress manages to make those actions not only plausible but inevitable. Rea meanwhile maintains our sympathies throughout, & his human face on the pain and suffering only makes it more effective. Whilst the film is predominantly a two-hander, mention must also be made of Brandi's boyfriend played by Russell Hornsby, who strips away his tough Gangsta persona to humorous effect.
Throughout the film, Gordon's typical dry sense of humour shines through, a streak of black humour in a cruel and cunning thriller. As a match of director and material, it's a fit as utterly perfect as Tim Burton and Sweeney Todd. All the elements fit together, and the overall effect is greater than the sum of its parts. Some kind of a modern classic, 'Stuck' is an unexpectedly terrific treat of a film.