Over 20 years after shocking the world into laughter with his chunk-blowing splat-stick classic Re-Animator, director Stuart Gordon continues his transition from Lovecraft-obsessed horror auteur to fearless dramatist with this darkly comic yet affecting tale of inhumanity ripped straight from the headlines. In October 2001, 25-year-old nurse's aid Chante Mallard virtually redefined the word "cruelty" after running into a homeless man named Gregory Biggs with her car, then driving home with the badly injured man stuck in her windshield. Panicked, Mallard parked the car in her garage, ignoring her victim's excruciating cries for help as he lay dying from shock and blood loss for two days. Later, when Biggs ultimately did succumb to his injuries, Mallard dumped his body in a nearby park, convinced that she could cover up her crime. Inspired by this real-life horror story, Gordon uses the basic framework as a means of exploring what appears to be a growing trend of inhumanity in a society where fewer and fewer people seem willing to be held accountable for their actions.
Brandi Boski (Mena Suvari) is a nursing assistant poised for a big promotion. Around the hospice, Brandi is seen as a compassionate hard worker, but on the weekends she likes to blow off some steam by heading to the local clubs, where she pops pills and downs drinks with her drug-dealing boyfriend, Rashid (Russell Hornsby). Meanwhile, down-on-his-luck local Thomas Bardo (Stephen Rea) has just been ejected from a run-down tenement for failing to make the rent yet again, his malaise compounded when he fails to find employment at the local job placement center. By intercutting these two stories early on, Gordon and screenwriter John Strysik smartly position Brandi and Thomas at crucial turning points in their lives: Brandi appears primed to work her way up to a management position at the hospice, while once-successful project manager Thomas has just been rendered homeless due to a tragic series of circumstances beyond his control. They both seem like sympathetic people with real lives and real problems, yet when their fates collide on a darkened city road, Brandi's true colors finally begin to show.
Having previously established himself as a master of fantasy-based horror with such efforts as the aforementioned Re-Animator, Dolls, and Dagon, Gordon proved himself equally adept at exploring the darkest regions of the human psyche with the relentless reality-based revenge thriller King of the Ants in 2003. Stuck continues in that tradition, posing difficult questions about accountability, compassion, and social responsibility by continually challenging viewers to consider how they might respond if placed in a similar situation. But Gordon never gets preachy, instead opting for a slyly ironic air of black comedy as the story winds to its poetic conclusion. Watching Rea's character as his pleas for help fall on deaf ears is nothing short of excruciating, his suffering made all the more palpable by the fact that Stuart's lens never flinches as Thomas struggles to pull himself up off of the windshield wiper that has pieced his side, or contend with a curious pooch who treats his exposed tibia like a two-dollar chew toy. Rea's performance is beautifully restrained, offering a perfect, likeable counterbalance to Suvari's heartless, hysterical portrait of delusion and denial. Supporting player Hornsby also stands out thanks to his portrayal of a low-level drug dealer who likes to front despite the fact that he's not half as tough as he'd lead others to believe. No question Gordon is at an interesting crossroads in his career, and much like Canadian auteur David Cronenberg, he seems to have managed something of a late-career resurgence that promises to yield some of his very best work.