All the horror fans love Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator, and the really hardcore horror fans are also well-versed on titles like From Beyond, Dolls, Fortress, Dagon and King of the Ants. Hell, even Gordon's relative misfires (Robot Jox, Castle Freak, Space Truckers) are more entertaining than most genre fare. Plus the guy's a well-respected stage director in Chicago, a close personal friend of David Mamet, and a filmmaker who sometimes steps away from the gory stuff and delivers a really crafty flick like Edmond.
So clearly I'm a fan of the guy's work. And when I saw that the Toronto Midnight slate was offering the director's latest project, I was pretty psyched indeed. (It doesn't hurt that the slate also includes new offerings from guys like Romero and Argento, but I'm digressing like a geek.) Anyway, Stuart Gordon's latest film is a welcome return to his old genre stomping grounds. More of a twisted thriller than an out-and-out horror movie, Stuck is still more than generous with the thrills, chills, and gooey gore-spills. Plus it has a sly and simple streak of social commentary, which adds a satisfying dash of subtext to a brutally bizarre story. Reportedly based on a true story (although I have no idea how loose or faithful the screenplay is), Stuck tells the tale of two entirely different people -- and how they get stuck together. Brandi (Mena Suvari) is a 'retirement home' nurse who's this close to earning a solid promotion. Tom (Stephen Rea) is a middle-aged nobody who's just about to become completely homeless. But then fate intervenes. Well, not actually fate. More of a car accident caused by Brandi's casual drug habits, to be honest. Basically, Brandi nails poor Tom with her car one night, and instead of calling the cops or seeking medical assistance, the frantic female just drives straight home -- with a mega-bloody Tom still stuck firmly within her windshield. Believing Tom to be dead, she stashes her car in the garage and makes a phone call to her philandering boyfriend.
And then all hell starts to gradually break loose, because not only is Tom still alive, but his horrific injuries have created one serious case of survival instinct. Once Tom realizes that Brandi has no intention of calling an ambulance, he starts to get ... really pissed. Too bad the poor guy is gushing blood from his belly and has a bone sticking out of his crumpled leg.
So while Stuck works best as a dark thriller with a creepy sense of humor, it's also a story about two lower-income nobodies who've become hopelessly "stuck" within the system. Brandi has dreams of promotions and pay raises, but they're nothing more than carrots dangled in front of the hungry party girl. And even though Tom has slipped through the cracks and become an expendable cast-off, he exhibits a powerful lust for life once his own blood starts flowing.
Backed by a pair of very fine lead performances, several colorful background players, a quick pace, and a handful of truly memorable scenes, Stuck might just be Stuart Gordon's best flick since Dagon -- or even From Beyond. The director approaches the fact-based story with equal amounts of disdain, fascination and bemusement, as if he can't believe this story actually happened -- but if it did, why not poke a little fun at the bleak absurdity of it all? Not for all tastes, obviously, but I'd call Stuck a surprisingly smart flick that starts out slowly and gradually explodes into a darkly satisfying finale.