Directed by Maxwell McCabe-Lokos.
Starring Susanne Wuest, Julian Richings, Cara Ricketts, Christian Serritiello, George Tchortov, and Adam Brown.
A dissatisfied woman abandons her career and her family when she gets the chance to compete in a bizarre and dangerously flawed contest. The prize: a brand new habanero-orange compact SUV.
Competition can bring out the worst in people. It doesn’t matter what the prize is (although, in this case, it is a luxury sports vehicle) because the reality is that a competitive person will play and want to win on their terms and for their reasons. Case in point, about half the characters in director Maxwell McCabe-Lokos’ (writing alongside Rob Benvie) Stanleyville don’t even seem interested in the SUV or pressuring the host for some proof it exists. It’s a unique competition, and everyone wants to come out on top.
If there’s anyone closest to a central protagonist here, it is the unfulfilled and despondent Maria (the vastly underappreciated Susanne Wuest of Goodnight Mommy notoriety) who crosses paths with Homunculus (Julian Richings), a deadpan, almost robotic man that chooses and fills Maria in on the details, although not necessarily selling up the sports vehicle prize. He claims that the real prize is a better understanding of mind, body, and transcendence. Considering Maria has a disinterested and neglectful husband with a delinquent rebellious daughter, it doesn’t take much for her to jump at the opportunity of spending some time away from them to partake in this competition (it’s also worth mentioning that Stanleyville wastes no time on Maria’s personal life, establishing her emptiness and offering immediate motivation to play the game).
While it may sound foolish that a woman would take the word of this oddball older gentleman and show up to the pavilion (which is just a decently sized room connected to a small storage area and one other room), once the other players are introduced, and the rounds begin, Stanleyville takes on the form of a dark comedy attempting to probe various psychological mindsets, making it relatively easy to adjust to its absurd wavelength. Those other competitors happen to be a meathead (George Tchortov), an egotistical businessman trying to overcompensate for not living up to his father’s reputation (Christian Serritiello), a half-lunged disadvantaged ball of hyperactivity (Adam Brown), and the no-nonsense practical Felicia (Cara Ricketts) here for the SUV.
There are eight rounds to the overall competition, with challenges ranging from blowing up balloons during an allotted time to truly bizarre concepts such as inventing a new telecommunications method or writing a national anthem promoting unity. A supernatural element is also introduced with some otherworldly presence speaking to Maria. The game also features hours of downtime between some challenges, briefly allowing players to get on each other’s nerves while inevitably suffering individual mental breakdowns. That’s especially true when some of this turns violent, both for comedic effect and horror.
Whatever Stanleyville is getting at regarding Maria’s character arc never entirely comes to fruition or even feels fully formed from a conceptual standpoint, but the wide range of self-centered personalities on display gels well with these strange challenges, and the many ways competition perhaps lights too much of a fire underneath some people. It’s not necessarily riveting from a narrative perspective, but at a brisk 86 minutes, always entertaining seeing what weirdness the players must get up to next and who receives the next tick on the giant green scoreboard on the wall.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com