Now, here's a real summertime treat, especially for a fucked-up little misanthrope like myself: an honest-to-God exploitation flick from the director of >one of the only Lovecraft movies you really need, a black-hearted ripped-from-the-headlines number that looks and feels, except for its modern film stock, like it could have walked out a '70s grind house just yesterday.

Stuck is inspired by the 2001 case of Fort Worth woman Chante Mallard, who hit a homeless man named Gregory Biggs with her car, with enough force to drive him through her windshield. She drove home with him stuck, leaving him to die after a few hours. She was later sentenced to fifty years for murder and ten for tampering with evidence, after she, her boyfriend, and his cousin tried to burn the car with Biggs's body inside. The film isn't so very similar to the reality, but that's mostly because director Stuart Gordon and his screenwriter John Strysik know the basic truth of making lurid fact-based thrillers: take only the good stuff and invent the rest they way you'd like it to be, not the way it was.

And so does their film focus on Brandi (Mena Suvari), a nursing assistant who finds one morning that she is on the fast track for promotion to captain of all the NAs at her nursing home; and Tom (Stephen Rea), who is at the same moment being thrown out of his apartment and learning that his job placement company lost his application. Her life is on the upswing, his is just about bottomed out, and both of them are just about ready to burn out from the stress of it all, which explains why she ends up behind the wheel of a car high on ecstasy and martinis, just as he is wandering the streets of the city looking for shelter for the night, and as these things will happen, he ends up waist deep in her car, bleeding all over the hood and interior. Not so high that she doesn't realise that she's fucked if the cops show up, Brandi drives him to her run-down home, locks him in the garage, and prays for him to die quickly and get out of her hair during the time she needs to devote all her energy to impressing her boss.

There's a lot more to it, obviously, involving Brandi's drug-dealing gangster boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby), and Tom's frantic attempts to get anybody to notice him long enough to call an ambulance, but it doesn't do to give away the turns of a tawdry potboiler. Anyway, all you really need to know about the film is that central conflict: Brandi is responsible for wedging Tom in a sheet of glass as he slowly bleeds to death, and she can't begin to understand what his problem is that he's causing her such difficulty. The not-so-secret beauty of trashy genre films like this one is that they're able to get at truths which more respectable movies can't and sometimes don't even bother trying for; your guard is lowered when you think you're watching lurid crap, you see, and the filmmakers are able to sneak their notions and themes in through the backdoor, while a prestige film is compelled to declare its meaning and thus reduce itself to the level of a polemic.

Stuck, you see, isn't just about watching a loudmouth white-trash girl torment a dying homeless man afflicted with some of the most memorably cringey gore effects in recent memory. Though it is, on that level, a rousing success. On a deeper level, it's a study of what turns a fairly normal person whose life is going pretty well, all things considered, into a cold-blooded sociopath who'd wish for a man's death because he inconveniences her. Maybe that's not the most universal theme that ever crawled through a movie theater, but I suspect that there are more nascent sociopaths than most of us care to think about. And Stuck burrows into the core of what it means when insecurity and guilt and plain immaturity turn into rage at other people, who remind us of all the things that we don't want to be reminded of.

Though it has a strong script and top-notch direction, the film would never function without a strong performance driving the role of Brandi, and Suvari steps up to the plate with a mesmerising performance that doesn't seem to come from anywhere in her previous career. It's not an especially sensitive characterisation, but Brandi isn't an especially sensitive character. She's neurosis and screaming, and the desperation that her noisy behavior isn't able to hide. Suvari goes big where big is exactly right, and it's thrilling and dangerous to behold.

Rea's Tom is a necessary counterpoint to Suvari's theatrics: tiny, uninflected, full of moments of quietly trying to assert his dominance in situations far outside of his control. A reasonable approach to take for part that requires him to spend most of the film in a single position with vats of stage blood poured over this body. And yet that doesn't keep him from demonstrating a chain of tiny changes that turn him from a victim of the world to someone briefly able to fight against all the terrible things that have happened to him. Though Brandi is the main character, Tom is the protagonist and the closest thing to an audience surrogate: the one sign that there's something we can do in the face of random chance and blind hate.

Of course, all that's hidden underneath a layer of nasty-minded thrills: Stuck is an exploitation film first, and a practically perfect example of the style. Pitch-black nihilistic humor, sick melodrama and blood, blood blood, and under Gordon's expert hand it's a less ironic breed of exploitation, and more upright in its goals, than all of the post-Tarantino trashfests which still sometimes ooze their way across our movie screens. Stuck is the real deal, smart and nasty, brutal and funny, entertaining and horrifying.