Sunday, October 24, 2010

The monster next door

To revisit my undergraduate thesis for just a moment, one might characterize Stuart Gordon's deliciously nasty little film Stuck (2007) as a lehrstück. This was a species of play designed originally by poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht for the edification and moral instruction of young people. Gordon, best known for the Re-Animator is quite a stern moralist himself, and he gets to dictate moral justice in a way that is more satisfying than the real-life facts the film is based on.

For those of you joining our story already in progress, the film was inspired by an incident in 2001 when a former nurse's aide struck a homeless man and, rather than risk punishment for driving while intoxicated on drugs and alcohol, left the man on the hood of her car to expire after she parked the car in her garage. (At least one other feature and episodes of two different TV series were woven around these facts.) The actual perpetrator successfully concealed the evidence and the crime and was only caught because she began to brag, whereupon she was tried and sentenced to a long term in prison. This was not sufficient for Gordon, who concocted a more dramatic sequence of events, putting the battle between good and evil front and center.

But maybe the most fun of the film is the way it compacts most of its significant events into the small shed-like garage in which the car is parked. That description makes the film sound limited and monotonous, but Gordon works a variety of characters and situations into that tight frame, including a good-hearted family of illegal immigrants who cannot risk exposure and a series of decisions by the character played by co-producer Mena Suvari and her lowlife boyfriend.

As is often the case with Gordon, he removes the events from the context of decent society, leaving the characters to be judged in a landscape of purely self-interested lunacy; the result is a streak of jet-black humor provided by the viewer. That is, the humor is not within the film, but takes place in the space between the film and the audience (assuming the audience is not composed of sociopaths, who might find the film to be a documentary).

And most amazing of all, the distinguished Irish actor Stephen Lea creates a witty and complex performance with a character who is nearly comatose for most of the running time. Most interestingly, he rejects vengeance when it is available to him, yet achieves it anyway. The denouement has a kind of wonderful perfection, violent, wicked, gory, cruel, just and logically derived from what has gone before.

With just a week before Halloween, this is one of the best monster films you may not have seen. And the monster is a cute little blond who is kind to old people.

P.S., speaking of Halloween and monsters, see Cloverfield if you haven't yet.

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