Stuck

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April 12, 2010 by Mark Mesaros

Things are looking up for Brandi Boski (Mena Suvari). All of her hard work at the nursing home is finally paying dividends. The fact that her elderly patients ask for her by name has impressed her superiors, including the senior Mrs. Petersen who is prepared to a give her a fat promotion. Meanwhile, everything is going terribly downhill for Thomas Bardo (Stephen Rea). Company downsizing has left him jobless and he’s been evicted by his callous landlord who won’t even let him secure anything from his apartment besides a few articles of clothing. He makes an appointment for an interview at the unemployment office, but a clerical error that lists him as Thomas ‘Brado’ means he’ll have to reschedule. He is suddenly homeless. Wandering into a park at night he meets a fellow vagabond who gives him a shopping cart to push his clothes around in. Bardo, unlike his new friend, has no survival instincts outside of the nine to five.

Brandi goes clubbing with her boyfriend Rashid to celebrate her new prospects. Leaving the club animated by MDMA, Brandi’s car collides with a shopping-cart toting Bardo. He winds up lodged in the passenger side of her windshield and the car never stops, amusingly driving right past the on-duty police officers who earlier had ejected him from the park. It is both amusing and horrifying in a film that is largely about people looking the other way. In fact, Brandi is posited as a woman who doesn’t; she meets the basic hygienic needs of her patients on a daily basis. She could just as easily tend bar or wait tables and probably make more money too.

Brandi makes it home, parks her car in the garage and leaves the barely conscious Bardo hanging in the windshield as she goes inside. Rashid arrives and they screw for what seems like an eternity. Instead of driving the man to a hospital like she promised, she works the next day, hoping Bardo just expires by the time she gets home. He hasn’t so she enlists Rashid to take care of things, but he is an inept and perilously stupid drug dealer who knows less about disposing of evidence than even Brandi. By the time Brandi works up the courage to kill Bardo herself, he has finally wriggled free and is waiting on her. The film resolves itself the way that most horror films do, and Brandi at this point has descended from unscrupulous and scared to just plain evil.

At one point Brandi’s Latino neighbors discover Bardo’s calamity and do nothing about it, presumably because they think it will mean reprisals if they intervene. If only they knew how innocuous Brandi and Rashid are. Here and elsewhere Gordon takes the time to exploit the many comedic possibilities inherent in the script. He has crafted a black-comedy of sorts, and a wryly humorous one. Note Brandi’s warped facial expressions when she fails to climax on her boyfriend because she can only think of the nuisance lodged in her windshield.

Unheralded by most critics and by fans of Stuart Gordon’s supernatural horrors, Stuck happens to be the director’s best work in years and one hell of an entertaining flick. The team of Gordon and writer John Strysik grafted their own thriller proclivities onto an already shocking true story. It’s funny and scary and technically accomplished in a way that few films are, and Brandi’s evolution in this film and Suvari’s performance is entirely believable, as is Stephen Rea’s effortlessly sympathetic portrayal. Brandi, like most of us, does not want to face the consequences of her ineptitude, and she believes that she can get away with it because she hit a homeless man whom no one is going to miss. Her behavior should be shocking and it is, but it’s easy to recognize and even empathize with her pathos, and that’s where Gordon, once again, really scares us.

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