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‘Stuck’, reviewed by Gilda Williams

Right from the opening scene -- featuring a close-up of a shit-filled, leaking adult nappy on an elderly man -- we know that director Stuart Gordon will spare us nothing in this punishingly dark movie, based on the true story of a Texan woman who accidentally struck a man with her car, then left him for days to die (‘like a bug’) in her windshield. Gordon masterfully tells the story, setting it up with plenty of old-fashioned foreboding. Certainly, homeless Tom was ‘stuck’ in life long before being violently immobilised in the windscreen. He’d been plaintively hoping to find a place to sleep ‘anywhere’ before spending the next few days embedded in Brandi’s car. And Brandi, struggling emotionally and financially, wiping the asses of her incontinent patients, was ‘in the shit’ even before being saddled with the stranger inconveniently bleeding to death in her locked garage.

Gordon builds the plot as a pattern of crushing moral dilemmas to which no one responds nobly.  Will Brandi risk her promotion and face her irresponsible behaviour? (No.) Will boyfriend Rashid bring Brandi to her senses? (No.) Will anyone help a dying man? (No.) It’s every man or woman for themselves in Gordon’s compassionless world; when a neighbour’s dog seems on the verge of revealing the gruesome situation -- only to take a few hungry bites out of Tom’s open wounds -- we are horrorstricken by the relentless cruelties inflicted upon this undead hunk of flesh stuffed in a black bag, until only recently still recognized as a human being. Ultimately we ask ourselves why Tom is so determined to survive this horror if only to return to the misery of human life as depicted here.

At first Tom seems the embodied stand-in for every bad thing we’ve ever done and hoped would disappear -- but refuses to go away. Our sympathies, initially, are oddly directed at Brandi, a single woman trying to make headway in life; but as her myopic self-absorption turns her from unlucky driver to heartless murderer, Tom’s shattered humanity becomes the devastating centre of the film. When Rea delivers his few final lines, sensibly asking Brandi, ‘Why? Why couldn’t you just let me go?’, we find ourselves surprised that someone is finally making humane sense out of this unspeakable situation, given the egoism, fear and heartlessness that have triumphed in every preceding moment of the film. Suvari is convincing as the panicked and isolated moral lynchpin of the film, struggling at length over the best thing to do and regularly opting for the worst possible choice. The dark humor -- Brandi angrily screaming ‘This is ALL. YOUR. FAULT!’ to a helpless Tom as she pours petrol over him -- is almost laugh-out-loud funny, but such humour only reduces us too to more unsympathetic witnesses. Like the characters onscreen, we grow weirdly immune to the staggering atrocity unfolding in Brandi’s infernal garage.

It’s a smart, tight film, but a word of caution: in its gruesomeness, Stuck is borderline unwatchable. The gore is only offset by a sequence of claustrophobic interiors; the walls of the garage seem to tighten as the film progresses. Stuck is an unflinching feel-bad movie. And if you’re considering covering your eyes through the really grisly bits when, for example, Tom slowly extracts the windshield wiper lodged in his gut, beware, Stuck has been foleyed to perfection by sound mixer George Hannan. The heavy, crunching sound of flesh being ground by shards of glass is the overwhelming memory of this bleak but daring moral tale.

Gilda Williams

Sight&Sound, Jan 2009