Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Thanks For the Ride Lady!

As a director, Stuart Gordon is still relevant and has transcended many a horror director of his generation by not being afraid to color outside the lines of conventional fright films. However, Gordon never strays too far, always keeping the horror within an earshot in various ways. Be it the violence of King of the Ants, the depravity of Edmond, or the story of a man Stuck inside a woman’s car windshield after a hit and run automobile accident.

2007’s Stuck is a Stuart Gordon vehicle (see what I just did there?!) with a plot that in one way is as simple as that, a man stuck in a windshield and left to die. However, as it turns out, Stuck is also a deeply layered character study that goes beyond your average black comedy.

Loosely based off of an insane, yet very true story, Stuck follows two main characters; Tom (Stephen Rea), who has recently run into some very tough times in his life. Tom has been evicted from his apartment just before an interview at a job placement agency, that due to an unfortunate computer error is botched and leaves Tom with no chance of getting a job. This series of events results in Tom being homeless and sleeping on a park bench. Then there’s ghetto superstar Brandi (Mena Suvari), who works as a nursing home aide and is being considered for a huge promotion at her job. Brandi celebrates this good news by going out to da club and getting cocked with here “bad news bear” boy toy/drug dealer, Rashid (Russell Hornsby), who feeds her ecstasy throughout the night.

On her way home to meet with Rashid for some of that good lovin‘, a wasted Brandi swerves all over the road as she is blasted and on her cell phone not paying any attention to the road. This is when Brandi and Tom first meet, unfortunately for Tom, it’s because she hits him with her car head on, resulting in Tom being lodged head first in the windshield. Over the limit, and not sure what to do about it, Brandi drives home and parks her new human enhanced hybrid in the garage, leaving Tom to die as she tries to figure out what to do about the situation. Instead of resolving the problem, Brandi takes some more “E” and sticks with her original plan of getting some of that Rashid action, only to wake up the next morning to find Tom still alive in her windshield. Afraid to ruin her possible new promotion (and essentially her life) because of drunk driving, Brandi leaves Tom to die while she tries to devise a plan to get rid of the evidence, thus keeping her out of trouble. All the while, Tom tries to hold on to dear life and survive this tragic ordeal any way he can, as he is once again in a situation that he cannot control.

I’ll start by saying that Stuck is a very black comedy, that while being a horrible situation, is a situation that is open to some humor. Outside of a few scenes and a funny opening at the old folks home set to some tight hip hop music, I wouldn’t consider Stuck’s humor to be very in your face as the comedy elements are “mostly” naturalistic and more about the naivety and lack of compassion from Brandi’s character. Once scene has Tom reaching for and honking the car horn, Brandi desperately tries to stop him and in an evil turn, knocks him out with a 2x4. My favorite line in the film happens soon after that, when Brandi gets in the car and looks Tom dead in the eyes and says, “Why are you doing this to me?” That line made me chuckle quite a bit. Only thing that would have been better, is if Brandy in her best Arnold impression told Tom to "Stick around."

Of course, with a situation involving a man trapped in a windshield, there are some gruesome moments in Stuck. The initial car accident is pretty awesome looking with how its shot and is kinda frightening when it happens. Though a little on the fake side with the windshield glass breaking into big shards instead of spider webbing like a windshield does in real life. Nevertheless, it’s still very cool looking, incorrect or not. Another scene has Tom trying to reach a cell phone left in the car by Brandi, but a broken windshield wiper is jammed into the side of his abdomen causing him great pain. Tom (with very little leverage) tries to lift his body and dislodge the wiper blade, and while you don’t actually see it in his skin because of his clothing, its still a painful scene to watch. One other scene that was very cool and somewhat gruesome is one that I wont go into details about, because it’s spoiler city. I’ll just say that it proves that the pen truly is mightier than the sword…you’ll know what I’m talking about if you see the film. Same goes for the justified, ironic, and very entertaining ending that had me wearing a shit eating grin and loving every minute of Stucks finale.

I can safely say that I really enjoyed Stuck for its humorous moments, and its horrific scenes, but the thing I like most about the film is the characters of Tom and Brandi, and how there lives are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Brandi’s life is going perfectly, she’s young and full of life, she is doing great at work with the possibility of a promotion and she even has landed the man of “her” dreams in Rashid. Her life is on the up rise and only looking to get better, that is until her chance meeting with Tom. Tom on the other hand is as low as it gets, he’s old and worn out, he’s jobless, homeless, and defeated. It would seem that Tom’s life couldn’t get any worse, that is until he literally runs into Brandi. Now Brandi’s life can only get worse, while Tom’s can only get better…unless he dies that is. The two characters are complete opposites in their respected times in life, but in their encounter, everything changes and goes in a different direction for each of them. I really liked this aspect of Stuck and found it to be very smart on Gordon’s (who wrote it) part to have the characters be so contrasting.

Tom’s character is even more developed, intricate, and metaphoric than in his comparison to Brandi. The metaphor is as simple as a man whose life has gone to complete shit; he is so down in the dumps and has almost completely given up on life. He is figuratively stuck in a bad situation that he can’t get himself out of and then literally stuck when trapped in the cars windshield. This of course gives the character another arc, where no matter how bad everything has gone for this man, he still want’s to live, and he will fight as hard as he can to survive his biggest road block in life. This would seem to be a (very harsh) turning point in Tom’s life, where he tries to find the strength to make it through this impossible ordeal, as opposed to just giving up as he had done before when faced with a tough challenge.

I guess you could make a similar case for Brandi’s character that had everything going right for her, but now everything is spinning out of her control as her life is crumbling before her very own eyes. She finds out that Rashid isn’t all that faithful to her (in what is another very funny scene); her career is in jeopardy, along with possibly her freedom if she is found to have committed such a crime. She too is stuck in a situation that she cannot control, and has no idea how to deal with it all. In addition, as with Tom, this is Brandi’s life altering turning point, where she is trying to fight to keep her world from going down the proverbial toilet.

Pretty brilliant character development if you ask me.

So, with a film that for me works as a solid black comedy, I found it to be a nice surprise to have such a well developed set of characters that pushed Stuck up a few notches in the “I like this movie” category. And I did very much enjoy the film and pretty much love most of what Stuart Gordon has done all throughout his career as he is doing some solid films, and I anticipate anything he works on (AND I CANNOT WAIT FOR HOUSE OF RE-ANIMATOR!). I can feel confident in suggesting Stuck to any fan of Gordon’s work, to any fan of good black comedies, and to anyone that likes complex characters, development, and depth in their films.


James said...

Thanks for reviewing this Matt. I've wanted to see it for ages and after reading your review I am looking forward to seeing it even more now.
Great reviews - rock on.

Emily said...

All right my fine sir, you have convinced me to check out Stuck. I'd heard mixed things, but I do trust that Stuart Gordon and the premise sounds like it's got plenty of potential.

And now I really wish I could spend my day watching Dolls.

FakeShemp said...

Guess I should watch that copy I got awhile ago... I love Stuart Gordon (no really, I HEART FORTRESS, so it's obviously love).

I also heart Mena Suvari. Or I should cock. Stupid thing made me watch Day Of The Dead.

Matt-suzaka said...

Thanks you for the kind words everyone! I should mention that Stuck is available on Netflix instant watch too!

James: I too wanted to see it for as long as I've known about it, and I'm glad I finally did. Hope you enjoy it when you do get to see it.

Emily: I can see why it would get mixed reviews, but if you're a fan of Gordon's previous work, then you should definitely enjoy it.

I will add that I love Dolls, and the opening of that film is soo much fun! Now I wanna watch it...

Shemp: Man I haven't watched Fortress in forever...I think I will have to get my hands on a copy so I can see it again soon.

I too love Mena Suvari is a great actress who does comedy very well. She is fantastic in Stuck and plays such a great character...a character you do not often see in many films at all. Her cornrows kick ass! I will pass on Day of the Dead though...

deepfix said...

I actually think this may be Stuart Gordon's best movie. While my inner fanboy ranks this as an average film for him (not an average film just average for him.) The real world guy who says that a film that doesn't mention Lovecraft can be better than average, recognizes that Stuart Gordon directed the first David Mamet plays. And that's what this film really is, a play. And it's killer. This movie shows how much Gordon suffered as a film-maker by being caught up with Yuzna and Lovecraft. I don't want more "horror" from him, I want better realized versions of this.

Matt-suzaka said...

Those are some great thoughts and I see exactly what you mean by Stuck being a film that feels aesthetically like a stage production, in fact, it would make a great play. It’s definitely one of his better ones; it shows a sign of maturity that has been going on with him as a filmmaker for a while now. And I agree that a good portion of that has a lot to do with him not being associated with Yuzna as of late. I enjoy what Gordon and Yuzna have done together for the most part, but Gordon has found a nice little niche in cinema that is very different from the Yuzna produced Lovecraft films that he has done so often. His more recent fair is off kilter of the horror genre, but still has some of the roots of horror, and I like what I see out of this period in his career. Of course, he has room to grow, and he certainly has over the years, however, I still think there’s room for more horror films if they are the right ones. I still consider one of my favorite Gordon films to be his last theatrical H. P. Lovecraft film Dagon. I think it’s a very solid film that’s really just marred by a low budget, which caused the film to be lax on special FX, and the FX that were on display, were very weak. Very unfortunate for a film with some great things going on in it. I still want to see horror films from him, but I don’t want to just see only horror films from him.

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