This picture from Stuart Gordon (“Re-Animator”) is a nasty little thriller, but an effective—and sometimes gruesomely funny—one. It’s inspired by a real-life incident that happened in Fort Worth, but though still pretty claustrophobic, it’s been opened up and expanded considerably to supply a more conventionally satisfying narrative arc.
Like a bargain-basement version of “Misery,” the story is about an injured man held prisoner by an unbalanced woman. But the victim in this case is no famous author; he’s Tom (Stephen Rea), a homeless fellow who’s been forced onto the streets of a rustbucket Rhode Island city after losing his job. On a deserted street late one night he’s struck by a car driven by Brandi (Mena Suvari), an orderly at a nursing home, as she’s returning from a spate of bar-hopping, and becomes impaled in her windshield. Though she debates about dropping him at a hospital, she decides instead to hide the car in her garage as he slowly bleeds to death trapped in the glass.
The rest of the picture is divided between scenes—often quite grisly—of poor Tom trying to extricate himself and of Brandi desperately attempting to conceal what she’s done and get rid of the body, an effort in which she enlists the help of her boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby), a two-timing drug dealer. There are also the inevitable close-shave moments when somebody—a kid, a dog—happens upon the trapped Tom. It all ends, of course, in a big final showdown.
There’s a grubby, seedy quality to “Stuck” that you can chalk up to its low-budget B-movie status, but is entirely appropriate to the material. And Gordon and screenwriter John Strysik add touches of bleak humor to the scenario that give it a gleefully unsettling tone. But the picture also depicts the plight of the struggling homeless man at the start with surprising honesty, and is equally good at portraying the reality of Brandi’s work at the home—particularly in a sequence in which she has to clean up a resident who’s soiled himself.
That’s connected to another of the picture’s strengths, the lead performances. Rea is totally convincing as a man down on his luck but maintaining a degree of dignity, and he holds your sympathy throughout. Suvari is even more remarkable; she manages to give a certain crazy logic to Brandi’s conviction that what happened wasn’t really her fault, and to make her gradual shift from terrified to terrifying plausible. More remarkably, even at the bloody close she still elicits a degree of sympathy herself for the ambitious young woman who finds her hopes for a better future unraveling in ways she can’t control. Hornsby provides what amounts to comic relief, and the smaller roles are all well filled.
The technical contributions are hardly slick, but the grainy look and coarse feel to Denis Maloney’s cinematography are absolutely right, and Andy Horvich’s editing keeps things tight and edgy.
In decades past “Stuck” is the kind of picture that would have been a classic on a drive-in double-bill. Today, its logical venues will be midnight showings and DVD shelves. But aficionados of Gordon’s previous work and Roger Corman’s better efforts shouldn’t miss the opportunity to catch it during its limited big-screen release.