Chicago Film Festival: Stuck
Nasty shit and the raw shock of having to clean it up is what Stuck is all about, and though subtlety of simile is never where director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) or screenwriter John Strysik set up shop, the movie barrels and bristles along through its first half-hour. Like the blazing first acts in one of Samuel Fuller's underbelly thrillers, like The Naked Kiss or Shock Corridor, Stuck draws potent energy and giddy overstatement from Suvari's germy and menial duties, from the scene where her smiling-piranha boss dangles a promotion in front of her to secure her "volunteering" for weekend labor, from the Ecstasy pills and alcohol that soon permeate the movie's system as well as her own, even from the low-fi cinematography with its steamy streets and tight orientation around faces and moving bodies. Meanwhile, the parallel montage patently forecasts a fateful encounter between, on the one hand, Brandi and her drug-dealing boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby) and, on the other, middle-aged Tom (Stephen Rea), whose tense eviction from his apartment is itself interrupted by a violent, offscreen squabble upstairs, allowing him to abscond with a heap of his white-collar clothes before heading out into the nightscape of Providence, Rhode Island (actually Saint John, New Brunswick). In their last hours of leading separate lives, Tom and Brandi both narrowly avoid hitting or being hit by other cars on the road, which might read as an early symptom of Stuck's simplistic propensities if the movie weren't, at that point, absolutely thriving on the certain foreknowledge of its crisis and on a poetics of pure impact rather than an ethics of depth or an aesthetic of cleverness. The same principle redeems the episode where Tom, sadly ensconcing himself on a park bench for the evening, is approached by Sam (Lionel Mark Smith), a veteran and apparition of the foggy streets who rolls his clanking shopping cart in silhouette like the Ghost of Christmas Past. Smith's own powers of prediction ("I'll be seeing you again...") cannot be doubted, because Stuck has already shown itself to be the kind of movie where mystical street prophecies will be ratified by life, though the timing and nature of how Sam's vision comes true seems titillatingly up for grabs.
We don't have to wait long to find out. When Brandi, addled by narcotics and distracted by her cell phone, plows right into Tom as he crosses a seemingly empty street, the movie palpably clicks into place as the movie it wants to be, like a loaded barrel being snapped back into a gun. Soon enough, while two policemen who lack any peripheral vision whatsoever book old Sam for vagrancy, he espies Brandi's car careening through the streets with Tom's abdomen and legs still protruding from her windshield onto her front hood. The associated thrill for the audience is structural as well as visual: having already played the imminent card of a second exchange between Tom and Sam (albeit a one-sided one), the narrative horizon stands totally open. As one of Stuck's characters will shortly espouse, "Anybody can do anything to anyone at any time," and though he intends a moral as well as a practical pronouncement about The Way We Live Now, he also gives voice to the machinery of the script. Who will survive this grotesque incident? Who will intercede as savior, witness, accomplice, or undertaker? When, if at all, will Tom regain consciousness? When, if at all, will Brandi's Darwinian impulses to save herself and to doom her desecrated victim be countermanded by a higher moral calling? And why are the choreography of the accident itself and the relative proportion of Tom's headfirst penetration into the cab of Brandi's car so sloppily shot and carelessly edited? Click here to read the rest, including spoilers and reflections on a Q&A with the filmmakers...
Photo © 2007 Rigel Entertainment/Amicus Entertainment