[22 October 2008]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Stuart Gordon’s career as one of the post-modern masters of the macabre happened quite by accident. As a graduate of the University of Wisconsin in the ‘60s, the self-described radical spearheaded controversial productions with his notorious company The Screw Theater (whose main objective was to stage shows that would force the audience to leave).
He would later go on to form Chicago’s Organic Theater Company, and seemed content to pursue combustible live performance. In fact, when it was suggested that the H.P. Lovecraft tale “Herbert West, Re-Animator”, would be an interested project to pursue, the lifelong fan originally thought about doing it live. When that idea was scrapped, a TV script found its way to an interested producer. Reimagined as a film, and the rest, as they say, is splatter comedy history.
Yet Gordon is more than just body parts and black comedy. While many of his films have stayed within the blood and gore genre, he’s dabbled in sensationally schlocky science fiction (Robot Jox, Space Truckers), fantasy (The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit), and intense urban drama (his adaptation of David Mamet’s Edmond). Horror is just one of the many caps this creator wears.
Now comes the delightfully disgusting thriller, Stuck. Based ‘loosely’ on an infamous real life case in which a young woman ran down a homeless man with her car and left him to die positioned in her windshield, Gordon finds yet another opportunity to take a typical genre and thwart its conventions. In this case, he takes a nail-biting thriller and turns it into a sly, substantive social commentary.
Brandi Boski is a collection of contradictions. As a nurse’s assistant in an old folks home, she loves her patients and cares for them with a sincerity and devotion. It doesn’t go unnoticed by her stickler boss. But when the working day is done, this girl just wants to have fun—ecstasy-fueled, rap music-inspired, club and bed hopping fun. With her African American drug dealer boyfriend Rashid by her side, it’s a headlong hop into full blown hedonism.
On the day she learns she may be up for a big promotion, Brandi really ties one on. That night, her DUI driving meets Thomas Bardo, a recently evicted, at the end of his rope ex-professional. He flies into her windshield, getting stuck in the process. Instead of dying, however, he is badly, badly injured. In a blind panic, Brandi simply drives home and puts her damaged car in the garage. She can’t let a little thing like a mangled human ruin her chance at career advancement—or personal gratification.
Stuck is the kind of film you’d expect from Stuart Gordon. It defies convention as it finds unusual ways to make its many captivating and insightful points. For those familiar with his blood and guts grandstanding only, there is ample accident-based arterial spray, and there is a darkly humorous cloud covering everything that Brandi, her beau Rashid, and a desperate Bardo does.
Sure, the first 15 minutes of the film finds actor Stephen Rea putting on a nerdy drawl as his life systematically crumbles around him. The upwardly mobile Brandi meeting the downwardly spiraling Bardo is the perfect cinematic set-up. It provides both players with a reason to react, and a motivation for their eventual actions.
Where Gordon decides to take everything next is why he’s considered one of the medium’s most outside and outrageous thinkers.
At first, the symbolism in Stuck is rather sketchy. Mena Suvari, her hair braided in some dated ‘wigger’ cornrows, plays Brandi like a beat-happy culture-robbing lightweight. She just wants a paycheck, a partner, and to party. Bardo is a typical post-modern white male—unimportant, powerless, and disposable. Rashid is the balance between the two—successful but for sketchy reasons, a bad-ass who turns tail whenever trouble rears its lifestyle stealing head.
As a threesome, we see contemporary populism captured in all its pale perfection. Our heroine turns out to be cutthroat and ruthless, wanting nothing to intefere with or steal her status. In her mind, it’s all Bardo’s fault. Her man talks a good game, but literally can’t deliver the death blow. And caught between the two is the victim, the former paternalistic heart of our once structured society, now left to rot in the windshield of a vehicle like so much meaningless road kill.
But Gordon doesn’t stop there. While Bardo is trying to make an escape, there are neighbors who discover (or almost redirect) his predicament. One is a self-absorbed homosexual who is so concerned about the blood on his shirt (thanks to his pet Pomeranian who accidentally discovered the garage crime scene) that he ignores the more obvious question—where did such grue come from?
The other is an immigrant family who, after discovering Bardo’s dilemma, fails to act because of their own illegal status. The iconography is obvious: here is the white man, once powerful, now unable to escape the grips of women and the strong minority men who now intrigue them. He’s figuratively fractured her well placed glass ceiling, and she responds like a serial killer. Sadly, the only fringe elements that could or would help have their own majority made issues that keep them distant and insular.
It would be nice to hear if Gordon purposely sought this approach, or if it was an organic result of the careful casting. Sadly, Image’s DVD offers little in the way of added context. Aside from a standard trailer, there’s nothing else. For a movie like Stuck, it seems a commentary would be mandatory.
Gordon does a good job with these full length feature narratives, and one imagines he would fill in the blanks that some of the script purposefully leaves out. Granted, a lot of what he wants to say here is fairly self-evident. Suvari’s hairstyle, Rea’s unrealistic voice, the opening sequence where Brandi must clean up after a soiled and filthy old man (a white man), and the constant hammering of the decency along the fringes (Bardo is initially befriended by a fellow homeless man in the park, much to his surprise), makes Stuck more than suspense.
Oddly enough, the dread ends up being the least important element in the entire film. We get the typical cat and mouse, Bardo finding ways to improve his lot (a cell phone, random tool-based weaponry) while Brandi and Rasheed plot and argue. We never feel the film will do something completely unexpected and fail to wrap things up in an action packed denouement. It’s just a matter of who will win and who will pay for what they’ve done to the other.
If you’re coming to Stuck hoping for another dizzying dose of Stuart Gordon splatter, gore mixed with a goofball sense of humor, you may be disappointed. This is not From Beyond retrofitted to a modern suburban setting.
Instead, this maverick moviemaker has decided to discuss the current state of society circa the new millennium, and it that regard, Stuck is very special indeed. If you get the message, you’ll respect the movie. Even if you don’t, you still have to admire the man. Stuart Gordon will always be an enigma. Something like Stuck suggests he’ll never change.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/stuck1/