The nature vs. nurture debate has gone on forever, nearly as long as the chicken and the egg question (which ironically would tie right in if that chicken starts misbehaving) and while it's one that we'll never solve, the bottom line is I think most of us want to believe that humans are born basically good. Certain things we're taught and certain things are instinctual-- from looking both ways before we cross the street or not taking candy from strangers to treating others as you want to be treated, some of this seems almost ingrained in our DNA but the one that seems to outweigh them all is self-preservation.
While this can be a positive whether it's willing oneself to make it through some horrific ordeal or illness, it can also be used to ill effect when its at the expense of others and such is the case which comprises the plot of director Stuart Gordon's internationally acclaimed and award-winning film, Stuck, which has newly arrived on DVD shelves.
Stuck's self-preservation battle is shown from two competing points of view when Mena Suvari's young character Brandi ignores proper and downright moral protocol and after accidentally driving straight into a down-on-his-luck newly homeless man (Stephen Rea) makes the panicked decision to keep on driving. While hit-and-runs make the news everyday and their cowardly actions are upsetting indeed especially if the struck pedestrian is in serious condition or worse-- the horrific events of Stuck are even more appalling when one realizes that the pedestrian wasn't just struck but instead stuck halfway through her windshield.
If this is starting to sound familiar it should-- inspired by the tragic, true story of a Texas woman who hit a businessman in 2001 and left him for dead in her garage, Re-Animator helmer Stuart Gordon and his screenwriter John Strysick produce a film that's as compelling as it is utterly unbelievable in its primal ferocity.
Instead of ripping it straight from the headlines verbatim and making their version into a docudrama, the filmmakers ingeniously craft a film that plays equally well as a dark yet intellectually compelling and often surprisingly wicked comic satire about the all-time low of public decency (as several timely issues including health care, immigration, the economy, and others are investigated) as well as going right for Gordon's prime demographic of horror fans looking for a succinct, gory little thriller. Much like Brandi's car, the intense nail-biter Stuck packs a wallop and the results of the film you will feel for not simply miles but days.
We first encounter Brandi (Suvari, who also produced) as a dedicated, loyal and hardworking nursing home employee who kindly tends to her patients even the one who requests her assistance by name when he soils his sheets and despite the impression that her boss is simply manipulating her, routinely comes into work on Saturdays to pitch in. Dangled with the idea of a possible lucrative and prestigious promotion in becoming the captain of the nursing assistants, Brandi and her friend Tanya go out for a typical Friday night of clubbing, drinking and pill-popping along with her dealer and low-level gang member boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby).
Our introduction to Brandi is intercut with the man whose fate will him find wasting away in her garage, namely Stephen Rea's Tom Bardo whose last name is derived from a Buddhist term referencing his future "life-or-death situation." A recently downsized project manager who was let go before his benefits would've kicked in and unable to pay his rent, Bardo finds himself on the unfortunate receiving end of one bad circumstance after another as he's denied governmental assistance from what appears to be both a human and computer error, kicked out of his apartment and taking to the streets for the evening. It's later that night that he's dealt the worst hand yet when after far too many cocktails and pills, Brandi and Tom find themselves in the same intersection at the wrong time.
Although she instinctively drives to a hospital and later contemplates calling 911, ultimately, the irrational Brandi drives home where she pulls into her garage and closes the door. Since she was the first character we met and the horrible event was definitely an accident, we instinctively feel bad for both "stuck" individuals but with the more time passes from the initial impact, we begin glimpsing the inhumanity that lies in Brandi who's so fearful of losing her job (and essentially ending up in Tom's shoes) that she disgustingly puts her life before human decency and quietly waits for him to die.
When her boyfriend arrives, she confesses that she struck a man but leaves out the most important detail involving his close proximity and in a scene that at first felt unnecessarily gratuitous yet serves as the revolting introduction to her more deceptive side that will further reveal itself as the night turns into day, Brandi and Rashid have sex that's intercut with the recently awakened Rea's agonizing pain.
While morning finds her sobered up and beginning to think clearly-- guiltily she once again contemplates calling the authorities but when Brandi first lies to Tom and tells him that help is on the way and then suddenly turns on a dime and later asks, "Why are you doing this to me?" we're horrified to realize we know precisely what she has in mind. Feeling complicit, we silently beg for someone to discover Tom. While I can't reveal more-- structurally changes were made that ultimately strengthen the film into an intelligent and frightening character-driven piece that's escalated by the talent of those involved, especially the humorous scene stealer Hornsby who provides much needed comic relief as we realize we're headed straight for a brutal showdown that can only end one of two ways.
Far better than I expected-- upon reading the synopsis, it's precisely the type of film I'd typically avoid but due to the accolades, acclaim and inclusion in several prestigious film festivals including the American Film Institute Fest in Dallas and the Toronto International Film Festival, I'm glad I took a chance. Ultimately a testament to one man's fight for survival pitted against one woman's escalating mental breakdown, Stuart Gordon's shocking story of being caught between a windshield and a garage is a master class in visceral filmmaking. Just be sure afterward you don't drink, dial and drive and always look both ways before you cross the street.