Man in the Wilderness
by Glenn Lovell
First there was Stuart Gordon’s unsung “Stuck.” Then “Buried.” Then “127 Hours.” Two titles constitute a coincidence. Three, a trend. Let’s agree that something about our current socio-economic straits has made us especially susceptible to stories about people trying to claw their way out of tight places. (I’ve purposely passed over the latest M. Night Shyamalan misfire, “Devil,” in this discussion.)
“Wrecked” ‒ a Canadian-U.S. production picked up by IFC and now bowing on pay-per-view ‒ is the latest riff on Poe’s “Premature Burial.”
It stars Adrien Brody as a man who regains consciousness only to discover his face mangled and his legs pinned beneath the dashboard of a car that has left the road somewhere in Vermont and slid halfway down a mountain. To his horror, there is a body in the backseat, another under a tree, obviously ejected on impact.
How did he get there? Who is he? What, if any, are his ties to the two dead men?
And more importantly, how will he pry himself out before freezing to death or being eaten by a mountain lion that has already made off with the corpse in the backseat?
In such a predicament, the mind plays tricks. The man sees a couple of hikers and a wolf-like dog he calls “Duke.” Are they real or are they hallucinations stoked by survivor’s guilt or a fierce survival instinct?
The first 30 minutes of “Wrecked” are as scary as anything I’ve seen in recent months. Director Michael Greenspan, shooting in British Columbia, does a terrific job of sustaining Brody’s restricted point-of-view and through the accumulation of details ‒ the mints on the floor just beyond reach, Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” on the fast-fading radio ‒ he pins us in the car alongside the man. And the night sounds wreak havoc with our imagination.
Since winning the Oscar for “The Pianist,” Brody has worked steadily, in everything from “King Kong” to “Splice” to Dario Argento’s “Giallo.” He is nothing if not a game actor. Here, in a performance that consists mainly of grunts and winces, he captures a man who gradually loses his humanity as the truth of his situation comes into focus. Brody is especially good at registering pained disgust ‒ disgust at his battered face, disgust at the bloodied corpse in the backseat, disgust over the mountain lion devouring flesh.
Kudos must also be extended to Greenspan and writer Christopher Dodd who kept me guessing even after Brody pries himself out of the car and begins crawling deeper into the woods. Based on memories of the “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episode “Breakdown” (Joseph Cotten pinned behind a steering wheel and presumed dead) and Robert Enrico’s masterful “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” I thought I had it all figured out.
I was wrong … so wrong.