As the crowd filtered out of the Stuck advance screening I attended, an older couple walked in front of the cordoned-off media seats and looked up at us, pleading, “Please write that this movie was terrible.” I burst out laughing, partly because the movie I’d just seen was so gloriously, purposefully lowbrow, and partly because I imagine that its director Stuart Gordon would have loved the couple’s response. Gordon, who has also directed the cult classic Re-Animator and frequently collaborated with David Mamet, certainly knew the movie he wanted to make with Stuck, and appealing to an older date crowd presumably wasn’t part of the marketing plan.
Loosely drawn from a real news incident, Stuck concerns Brandi, a go-getter nurse at a Rhode Island nursing home who, after a night of Ecstasy and liquor, hits a homeless man, Tom, on her way back home. But instead of clipping him or even killing him instantaneously, he gets lodged in her windshield and she hides the car in her garage. He’s alive, although severely injured, through the whole ordeal; enough, in fact, for Gordon to disperse with the real-life story (in which the man died) and instead allow the violent suspense to climax in a crowd-pleasing revenge plot. Along the way, no sex or torture scene is done subtly, no potential soap-opera plot twist goes unexplored, and not once does the script rise above the most minimally necessary superficialities of characterization.
What makes Stuck so enjoyable is the commitment and lack of pretension with which everyone involved throws themselves into this proudly B-movie. For leads, Gordon is blessed to have Mena Suvari (with perfectly lower-class cornrows) and the great Stephen Rea—who ties Tim Roth in Funny Games for the year’s most immobile, injured role—playing the driver and victim, respectively. Her coworker Tanya (Ruyika Bernard) and boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby) are similarly flat, even stereotypical, characters redeemed by actors who refuse to impart even the slightest irony to their performances. This isn’t Grindhouse, where ambitious directors use expensive technology to recreate sleaze with a wink and a nod; and it isn’t Psycho, where Hitchcock purposely scrapped the Hollywood gloss of North by Northwest to make something more visceral. Instead, this is the product of a small group’s collective vision to create a small movie with a small audience—one that values cheap thrills and 90 minutes of fun. Gordon, for better or worse, makes the kinds of movies that Tarantino can only ogle with a self-conscious art-school mentality.
Which is not to say that Stuck is a great movie. Rather, it’s a movie that knows it’s not great and is perfectly fine with that. It is funny, well acted, and true to itself, which can’t be said for many other films. That Suvari co-produced it only speaks to the near-tangible sense that Stuck was a labor of love. She became famous due to her turn as a virgin vixen in American Beauty, perhaps the most overwrought and pretentious film of the 1990s and the type of movie to which Stuck serves as a necessary anathema.
Don’t merely credit Gordon with aiming low and then hitting his target, however. The performances and cinematography are all better than the material demands, which doesn’t necessarily elevate Stuck beyond simple drive-thru and popcorn fodder, but instead just means that it’s a particularly well-made example of same. Few high-minded Neil Jordan fans who come to see Stephen Rea will leave Stuck happily, but fans of Gordon’s work will be enthralled. It’s a movie that plays right to its audience, offering nudity, gross-out moments, and comeuppance for the villain, and enough gore to force out the squeamish who may see it unprepared. This one’s for the genre fans, in other words.
Admittedly, I’m not in that group. I’m not well versed in the early-to-mid-80s comedy-horror genre in which Gordon had his initial success, although I’m not averse to it, either. But Stuck exemplifies the approach to filmmaking that I love and that transcends genre; it feels confident and honest, quickly paced and urgent, acted well and not afraid to play to its audience. It’s exciting to think that, partly due to Gordon’s long career and ties to Mamet, not to mention Suvari’s involvement, the movie will play in art houses and reach a potentially larger audience than such a film would have in the 80s. Stuck will not change anybody’s life, and it doesn’t offer any answers to questions about the way we live, but it will most certainly freak a few people out and offer 90 minutes of cinematic escapism for those interested. And it may just show aspiring young horror geeks that these kinds of movies can be well acted and not simply gratuitous. It’s good for cinema that Stuart Gordon can be given money and distribution to make a film like this, as it shows that no genre is irredeemable when made by people who care about making good movies.
Stuck, directed by Stuart Gordon. Rated R, 94 minutes, now in limited release.