The theater poster for Stuck mimics the covers of check-out counter tabloids. However, these days, that type of 15 - 30 second news consumption reaches out from cable news, radio, the internet, and even newspapers. Just a few weeks ago I even linked to sensational web site The Smoking Gun as a source for my post about the grisly true story that inspired this film. Director Stuart Gordon assumes that his audience has already become accustomed with this story and uses that as a spring board for some b-movie introspection instead of making another empty headline grabbing horror film "based on true events".
At moments, Stuck recalls Gordon's 2003 torture-and-revenge flick King of the Ants. That film was a punishing, loathsome bore, regretfully revealing moments of its director's intellectual laziness and borderline misanthropy. But Gordon's redeemed himself with Stuck (2005's Edmond was a well-intentioned interpretation of a David Mamet play, but a huge misfire...), a film that challenges our own knee-jerk judgements of characters within a news story. But "characters" they never are, and that's Gordon's point. No matter how negligent, criminal, or despicable they may be, there is always something beyond our convenient two second condemnation.
Mena Suvari plays Brandi, a middle-class, upward moving assistant at a nursing home. She's self-involved, but polite and attentive to her high-maintenance patients. The first time we see her she's calmly cleaning up a mess left behind from an incident of incontinence. That night, to celebrate a pending promotion, Brandi, her friend Tanya (Rukiya Bernard), and shady, drug-dealing boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby) go to a club. Drunk and high, Brandi drives home and hits the newly evicted and unemployed Tom (Stephen Rea). Brandi tries to drop Tom outside an emergency room, but panics and hurries home to park her problems inside the garage. From here, Stuck turns into a series of moral vignettes between Tom and various passers-by.
Ultimately, Stuck is about choice and owning up to the ones we make. Twice, Brandi blames her predicament on Tom. It's a darkly comic moment, but also true a reflection of modern day irresponsibility. Similar to the hedonistic tenet of if it feels good, do it we've become so inconvenienced by our own brought upon consequences that if there's a chance to bury it, many may at least consider it; if you can pass the buck, do it! This may sound pessimistic, but it's not. In fact, Gordon goes at lengths to show that even the most ethically sound among us may hesitate - and feel conflicted - about getting involved out of self-preservation. It's not nihilism, just a reality of human conditioning.
What's most refreshing about Stuck is its concluding plea for human kindness and compassion in the face of the worst that can come out of us. A final shot of a boy reaching out his hand to help Tom off the ground is reassuring, but it also feels spiritual. Even the pre-impact eye contact between Tom and Brandi - that Gordon establishes in slow-mo effect - portrays fear as split-second regret instead of horror's typical I-don't-wanna-die survivalism. Lesser filmmakers would have simply let Brandi plow into Tom in a blasting wide shot for vulgar effect.
With his eyes closed, Gordon could have churned out another nasty and fashionably sadistic crowd-pleaser (one more nail in the coffin for western horror). Instead, he takes real life terror and wrings hope out of it... both for his genre and the unfortunate in everybody.