Stuck’s cheeky tagline—“Ever have one of those days?”—speaks to its simultaneously raucous and terrifying qualities. Director Stuart Gordon, a certifiable cult hero among horror aficionados, adapted the story from the true life tale of Chante Jawan Mallard, a Texas nurse’s aide who, while under the influence of ecstasy, struck a homeless man with her car and subsequently drove him to her garage where she let him bleed to death. The sensational case material was front page fodder for months, during which time Gordon and co-writer John Strysik crafted a fictionalized account of the shocking events.
American Beauty star Mena Suvari plays Brandi, a diminutive caregiver at a senior citizens’ home who spends her days traversing sterile hallways and changing shit-stained sheets, a depressive reality whose only bright spot is the potential promotion her stoic boss alludes to. By night, however, Brandi transforms into a reckless 20-something who drops E with her boyfriend as a means of anesthetizing the memory of her bleak quotidian existence. Brandi careens toward disaster after consuming a self-medicating mix of drugs and alcohol one evening, when, like, Mallard, she runs head-on into a homeless man (Stephen Rea) who has just been evicted from his hovel of an apartment.
He becomes firmly lodged in her windshield, his barely conscious face staring grimly into hers while she continues to drive down the block. Understandably terrified, Brandi attempts to anonymously deposit him in front of an emergency room before secretly storing his body while she figures out how to clean up the messy situation. And messy it is—gore king Gordon delights in drawing attention to how Brandi’s windshield wiper has impaled him, pushing the camera into his midsection as he painfully attempts to squirm his way free.
Brandi’s chain of poor choices are inarguably despicable, yet her character elicits a curious amount of sympathy, too. Gordon was brave in choosing this morally ambiguous imperative. Rather than bifurcating “good” Tom (Rea) and “bad” Brandi on opposite ends of an ethical spectrum, he blurs the lines of virtue to raise challenging questions. Brandi is flawed, but her moral gaffes arise from a very human psychic space. She is frightened and confused, just as Tom was frightened when he fled his rent-demanding landlord at the film’s start. Though the situations are not identical, they stem from similar emotional pools.
The role marks a drastic departure for Suvari, who sheds the wholesome character sheath she donned for the American Pie series to play an imperfect and oftentimes diabolical woman. As time passes and Brandi advances into progressively more troublesome territory, Suvari relishes the chance to emphasize the woman’s mental unraveling. The situation itself is mad, and Brandi descends into quasi-insanity as an attempt to justify her lack of principals.
Rea, meanwhile, has little dialogue to speak of but gives a valiant physical performance, one which incites viewers to root for him as he attempts to free himself from the windshield, whether ceaselessly honking the car horn or contorting his body to reach the cell phone Brandi carelessly left on the seat. The audience hopes for retribution, and Gordon delivers a grandiose conclusion that strays far from the facts of the original Mallard case. Though Gordon begs a number of philosophical questions with this picture—including why there is a fundamental lack of empathy in contemporary culture—he entertains with flamboyant cinematic gestures, too, embracing graphic imagery and campy violence to compose his stylized film. In a sea of homogenized summer fare, Stuck is the jarring jolt that moviegoers may need.
Review: Heidi AtwelImages: Marcus Brooks