Monday, October 01, 2012

30 Days of Nightmares #5: STUCK (2007)

The Story: A young woman hits a pedestrian with her car, then suffers a moral dilemma over what to do about it.

Expectations:  The main reason I rented this movie was because it's directed by Stuart Gordon.  Horror fans know Gordon as the man behind the cult favorite RE-ANIMATOR (1985).  (A few days ago, I wrote about films that achieve a perfect balance between comedy and horror... Somehow I overlooked RE-ANIMATOR, which should have been at the top of the list.)  Gordon went on to adapt several other H.P. Lovecraft stories, with admirable results: FROM BEYOND (1986), CASTLE FREAK (1995), DAGON (2001), and the Masters of Horror episode DREAMS IN THE WITCH-HOUSE (2005).  As a result, he's often known as "the Lovecraft director."  This is a narrow view of his talents.  In 2003 he branched out into a different vein of horror with the film KING OF THE ANTS, an unexpectedly savage horror film that should have more of a cult following.  ANTS is every bit as bold as RE-ANIMATOR, but its harrowing realism probably limited its audience.

Based on the poster and the synopsis, I was expecting STUCK to be just as realistic but comparatively restrained... perhaps a bid for the mainstream.  The poster art makes it look like a sequel to CRASH (2004) and the Netflix synopsis makes it sound like a melodramatic update of the old campfire story recounted in CREEPSHOW 2 (1987).  If you haven't seen that one, the third segment is about a woman who hits a hitchhiker with her car and leaves him for dead on the side of the road.  In typical EC Comics style, what goes around comes around.  Soon she's being stalked by the undead hitchhiker (who keeps repeating in a deep, garbled voice, "Hey lady..." until the phrase becomes utterly hilarious).  I have to admit that I was fairly enthusiastic about the possibility of seeing the usually bratty Mena Suvari get her comeuppance in STUCK, and I was confident that Stuart Gordon would throw some curve balls.

Reaction: This movie left me thinking about the definition of a horror movie.  "The Hitchhiker" segment in CREEPSHOW 2 is certainly a horror story, owing to its playfully sardonic sensibility.  STUCK has a very different sensibility -- one that is, in my opinion, more genuinely compelling.  Gordon certainly allows us to laugh at the increasingly absurd plot twists in STUCK, but his emphasis is on horror... because, as crazy as this story gets, it is only too believable.

Here's the thing: When horror intrudes on everyday life, it is not a romantic narrative.  It is ugly, often stupid, sometimes laughable in its shocking randomness.  It is different from movie-horror simply because it is real and undeniable.  There are, unfortunately, plenty of people in the real world like Mena Suvari's morally vacant Brandi -- people who will, one minute, clean up after an old man in a nursing home because it's their job and, the next minute, set out to murder an innocent man simply to keep their job.  The story synopsis above is not really accurate, because the question of moral responsibility never enters this character's mind.  What can we do about a person like that, except laugh at them and cry for them?  And hope that we don't step in front of their car...

This is not a formulaic horror movie.  There are no monsters or serial killers -- only ordinary, desperate, not-very-intelligent people.  Both of the main characters (the casual killer and her victim) are hanging onto the bottom level of a society that carelessly neglects and discards individual members.  The film certainly has a political subtext about American immorality, which surfaces most clearly when one of the characters argues that it's easy to get away with murder, concluding, "Just look at who's in the White House."  (Remember that the film was released in 2007, so probably shot in 2006.)  This is a horror movie, because it shows us one of the biggest the horrors we're faced with in real life: people who kill without hesitation or remorse, just to protect their own ass.  In horror films, if not in life, those people always get their comeuppance.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: There are plenty of cringe-inducing scenes in the second half of this movie, but I think I have to go with the one where a prissy little purse dog starts nibbling on a man's compound fracture.  If that doesn't sum up this film's message, I don't know what does.

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