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Instant Watch pick: Stuck (2007) – super cool to the homeless.

2010/07/12

Warning:  this review contains spoilers, and by “spoilers,” I’m talking about your lunch.    

I’ve posted before about a particular subgenre of based-on-actual-events horror films.   There’s a real range of quality in that pool, not to mention entertainment value.  I’ve got to try to break down for you why Stuck is among the best of these – or at least of the ones available on Instant Watch.    

Let’s start with the promotional artwork.     

Good......................better.................and best.

 

So.  Do you remember the news story a few years ago about the woman who hit a homeless guy and left him to die her windshield?  That’s the story being told here or at least the thumbnail, water cooler version.  Already it is shocking, violent, absurd, and grotesquely comical.  Dig a little deeper – it’s got morality issues; it prompts you to mark a line where the waters of human judgment, responsibility, and concern for the suffering of others receded.   If you stop there, it is a caricature; a cartoon with a girl driving drunkenly (x’s for eyes, maybe, with a thought balloon reading “OMG I am sooo wasted!”), with some rattily dressed legs sticking out of her windshield, as they would from a garbage can.   Stuck was not satisfied with the cartoon version.  Stuck read the papers and hauled out the exhibits, and then decided to imagine exactly how this went – or could have gone.    

How it actually went, in more detail:  a twenty-something nurse’s aide was driving herself home from a nightclub in Fort Worth, Texas, whilst drunk and high and rolling, when she hit a thirty-something mentally ill homeless guy with enough force to drive him more than halfway through her windshield.  She then drove 7 miles to her home (and yes, if you’re wondering, she noticed he was still draped over the dashboard), parked the car in her garage, and left him to die.  And the woman’s boyfriend and his cousin dropped the man’s body off in a public park on Sunday morning.  Aaaand we also know that even though his midsection was gouged, an arm was broken, both legs were broken, one of which was nearly severed and still in the windshield, he survived the injuries, but bled to death over the next few hours in her garage.   Reports vary as to what she was doing, let alone thinking, while this guy bled out in her garage, but she went inside and had sex with her boyfriend, and claims to have returned to the garage several times, apologizing to him and fretting over what to do.     

Jurors in the real-life trial reportedly were visibly revolted by crime scene photos, and I think the incident is brilliantly depicted in Stuck with the kind of gore typical of an episode of Tales From the Crypt.  In fact, Stuck’s director, Stuart Gordon, also directed the uber-creepy Fear, Itself episode called “The Eater” (also available on Instant Watch) – if you’ve seen just that episode, you’re well prepared for the fluency with which Gordon can visually depict a painful human experience.       

The real-life villain is the film’s antihero, Brandi (Mena Suvari).  As a nurse’s aide, she cheerfully and sympathetically bathes people when they shit themselves.  She is thrilled to be considered for a small promotion.  She’s looking forward to hitting the club and scoring some ecstasy from her drug dealing boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby).  Meanwhile, Thomas (Stephen Rea) is valiantly, doggedly struggling through an interview process that resists him at every step.  He’s just been kicked out of a flophouse for failure to pay.  The best thing that’s going to happen to him that day is another homeless man will give him a shopping cart of his own.  The worst thing involves a trip through Brandi’s windshield.    

Stephen Rea is not unlikable anyway, and he is portraying the victim as a clean, friendly, well-mannered, mentally sound gentleman.  Reports about the real victim indicate that, although he suffered from bipolar disorder, he was essentially a down-on-his-luck man estranged from his family, but still: I’m thinking the director underestimated our ability to embrace the victim, because Stephen Rea’s performance pre-windshield reads more like a university professor who’s been locked out of his car for a few hours.       

As for Brandi, she’s young and her world is small; she’s high, and when she tells her boyfriend she hit a “street person,” he laughs and encourages her to blow it off.  She is clearly conflicted about what to do, at least for a time, and attention is paid to the moral balance-point at issue.  Ultimately, though, Brandi takes the easy way out, even when it gets less easy, and insists more than once that what happened wasn’t her fault.   Mena Suvari’s performance is consistent and impressively understated; she earns your sympathy not through tears and drama and showing you how hard this is, but rather by coming across as an ordinary person who, in the face of difficult circumstances, completely flakes as a human being.      

Stuart Gordon shows in a number of unexpected ways that his interest in this story goes far beyond the cartoon version, and even beyond the morality or the man vs. man plot of it, from which the genius in the retelling arises.  For example, in the title sequence, the camera moves slowly through a montage of aged nursing home patients – they knit, they play checkers, they drool and sleep – as DJ Honda’s “Get On Your Job” rages along, like a warm-up exercise for what is going to be a death match between Brandi’s self-indulgent, though normally victimless nightclub lifestyle and the lifestyle of those for whom entertainment consists of seeing if you make it through another day alive, having dropped off the radar of social relevance.  It is, in a word, hilarious.     

I've heard The Rawcotiks pwn at horseshoes.

 

As I’ve hinted, the story takes an imaginative turn, and the possibilities explored aren’t as realistic as the fact-based details.  Still, it’s a rare quality for a director to be able to make me physically recoil from a film without feeling like they are doing it to be shocking, arty, or exploitative.  I can’t say as I’ve ever felt it was important for a film to be gory, but here, the graphic depiction of Thomas’ injuries humanizes him as a victim.  Don’t believe me?  Watch, and let me know if you’ve ever rooted so hard for the homeless.     

Darkly comic, satiric, gory horror with solid performances, and an oddly faithful re-telling of true events – five stars of seven on the “I saw it for free” scale.  Way to go, Instant Watch.      

Jenny

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