Tom Bardo (Stephen Rea) is having a bad day. Unemployed, he has been kicked out of his dingy apartment, given the run around at the employment agency and finds himself facing the prospect of having to spend the night on a park bench.
But things are about to get worse. Much worse.
While crossing the street on his way to a homeless shelter, Tom is struck by a car driven by nursing home attendant Brandi (Mena Suvari), who is on her way home from a hard night of partying at a local nightclub. But rather than being thrown by the impact, Tom becomes embedded half-in, half-out of the passenger side of the car’s windshield.
Drunk, high and panicked, Brandi speeds home and hides her car in her garage. Presuming that Tom has died overnight, she enlists the help of her boyfriend (Russell Hornsby) to dispose of the body the next morning. Unfortunately, Tom is not dead. And thus begins a battle of wills between the two for survival.
Normally known for mainstream dramatic work, Rea is Gordon’s secret weapon her, making us care about his hard-luck character before the accident and wince with sympathy at every agonizing moment he spends struggling to get free of the car’s windshield. But how did Rea find himself in an independent horror film?
Some only familiar with Director Stuart Gordon’s reputation as a low-budget horror maestro might be surprised to know that he is also a respected Chicago stage director and a friend of playwright David Mamet. With those considerations, it is no stretch to think that Gordon was perhaps intrigued by the subtext of the story, with both characters stuck and unable to get free of their own economic situations. Tom is trapped by his age, unable to get a job. Brandi is held captive by the continued dangling promises from her boss, baited into working extra shifts with the assurance of a promotion that never comes, while her relationship with her big talking boyfriend is another trap she finds she cannot get free of.
Gordon dials back the gore levels that characterize his films like Re-Animator (1985), instead choosing to build suspense and thrills through more traditional means. That’s not to say Gordon is above splashing a bit around when needed. The sequence where Tom frees himself of a windshield wiper blade embedded into his side uses just enough blood, augmented by some rather squish sound effects, to get the audience squirming their seats. There is also a rather disgusting moment in the film’s introduction of Brandi that, while it may be a normal part of what someone like her has to deal with on the job, will still illicit groans from the audience. Subtext is fine, but it is something rarely found in a low budget genre film like this. Its presence here helps to elevate the already well handled material to at least minor cult status.