"Bad news, go 'way/Call round some day/In March or May./I can't be bothered now!/I'll pay the piper/When times are riper/Right now I shan't./Because you see I'm dancing and I can't/Be bothered now!" In 1937, Ira Gershwin's lyrics embodied the desire for escapism from the Great Depression. In 2008, they again describe the foreseeable American way of life. The case can be made that only a major economic downturn and the soaring price of gasoline have sent our war president's approval numbers into the basement. If it doesn't affect our personal lifestyles, Americans simply can't be bothered. With his horror fable Stuck, veteran director Stuart Gordon guts us with dark satire and twists the knife.
The very notion of a horror fable is enough to make weary gorehounds sit up at attention. It's the elder statesmen, with shrunken budgets, who prove repeatedly that they've something more on their minds than mere shock value and box-office returns (Gordon, 60, grabs the baton from George Romero, 68, who put out Diary of the Dead earlier this year). With Stuck, Gordon works from a screenplay by John Strysik that's inspired by the true Texan tale of Chante Mallard and Gregory Biggs. And though its story is more outlandish, Stuck is considerably more "inspired by true events" than the now-playing fiction The Strangers.
Mena Suvari plays Brandi, a rest-home nurse who takes to the wheel one night on the trifecta of drugs, alcohol, and cell phone. Before she knows it, a homeless man (Stephen Rea's Tom) is halfway through her windshield. Though her first instinct is to dump her unwanted passenger at the ER entrance, Brandi finds herself in her garage with a man begging for her help. Though Brandi happily wipes an old man's ass by day, saving a man's life gives her pause—after all, what if she's made to pay for her crime? As she repeatedly tells herself and Tom, it's not her fault. Absurdly, she yells at the stuck, bleeding man, "Why are you doing this to me?" Even while gleefully unnerving the audience with the excruciatingly squishy sound effects and gory visuals of Tom's attempted self-rescue, Gordon expertly presses Strysik's farcical and satirical buttons.
Leaving Tom in the garage, a shell-shocked Brandi allows her slimeball boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby) to bed her. During the act, she sees Rea coming at her all over again, penetrating her windshield. It's a vintage visual idea from the Gordon playbook. Though some of the black-comic complications to follow put one in mind of John Waters circa Serial Mom, Gordon chooses wisely in accepting a single, essential incredible element of the story—Tom's bodily resilience—and keeping the rest painfully plausible (though, at a point, satisfyingly divergent from the true-life case). The result is a different kind of gore movie, and certainly a more deeply unsettling one.
"The truth is anybody can do anything to anyone and get away with it," Rashid counsels. "I mean, look at the White House." It's a good line, but Gordon keeps the story grounded in Brandi and Tom's depressed downtown (with its disspiriting storefronts and indifferent police) and every-man-for-himself suburbs. The high-strung dad of the illegal family next door to Brandi willfully ignores the man dying yards away. He schools the wife and kid: "I don't want to know what goes on with the neighbors." Strysik cleverly counterpoints the Kafaesque bureaucracy of Tom's failed job interview to the conscience-less exploitation of Brandi by the boss dangling a promotion over her. There's only so much success to go around—threaten your neighbor's livelihood at your peril. As Tom's encounter with a local pooch proves, it's a dog-eat-dog world.
Image brings Stuck home on Blu-ray with an impressive collection of bonus features to complement a great A/V presentation. Having seen Stuck in a dim, washed-out print, I was surprised at how crisp and clear Stuck appears on this Blu-ray. It's still the same visually dark film Gordon shot, but the depth and detail in this presentation add quite a bit. Ditto for the DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Digital 5.1. surround tracks, which precisely project each skin-crawling sound effect.
ThinkFilm and Image provide a number of fascinating bonus features, beginning with a rollicking audio commentary by director Stuart Gordon, writer John Strysik, and actress Mena Suvari. "Driving Forces: Director Stuart Gordon and Writer John Strysik" (8:02) focuses on the adaptation of the real story into a fictional film, using interviews interpersed with film clips and headlines. "The Gory Details: Special Effects and Make-Up" (9:28) showcases special makeup effects supervisor Mike Measimer and includes a substantial amount of test footage for serious gorehounds.
"Ripped From the Headlines: Behind the Scenes and Actual News Footage" (17:09) features Gordon, Suvari, Rea, Strysik, and CBS-11 news reporter Jay Gormley. It's a traditional making-of crossed with more headlines and a running interview with Gormley about the actual case. "Interviews and Exclusive Footage from the AFI Dallas International Film Festival" (24:53) include Rea and Strysik doing press and a complete post-screening Q&A. Lastly, the disc includes the film's Trailer (1:36) in HD.
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