Stanleyville is bizarre. There, I said it. I sat through the 90-minute runtime, wanting to turn it off half the time and wanting to see how it ends for the other. My guest tuned out and I stayed put. Writer/director Maxwell McCabe-Lokos makes an apparent effort to create an intriguing dark comedy, but it never elevates it to what one can only assume is his vision. In this novel, the characters turn on each other after being stranded on an island, and from there, they examine the darker sides of humanity. McCabe-Lokos and co-writer Rob Benvie allude to Golding’s Lord of the Flies in an early scene.
Fed-up housewife Maria (Susanne Wuest) sits on a bench ready to throw in the towel on life when she is approached by a man named “Homunculus” (Julian Richings) who carries a child’s backpack. Homunculus invites Maria to participate in a contest – the prize? – a habanero colored SUV and transcendence. The disillusioned Maria follows him to a what looks like a rec or meeting room, where she meets fellow contestants Felicie Arkady (Cara Ricketts), Andrew Frisbee, Jr. (Christian Serritiello), Manny Jumpcannon (Adam Brown), and Bofill Pancreas (George Tchortov), each with their own set of oddball issues and the desire to win. While Felicie only cares about the car, Andrew deals with huge daddy disappointment issues. Manny becomes increasingly more theatrical, and Bofill chugs protein shake after protein shake to acquire the idea body.
Ultimately, Stanleyville is a film about human beings and what they will do to win. The contest events go from strange to completely and utterly ridiculous and lead to outlandish, cutthroat behavior. Soon the group is more at odds, and people die. As the rounds change, the more “menacing” the tasks and uglier the behavior of these humans get – proving that underneath, people are a despicable species motivated by selfishness and greed.
On the surface, the story works, but not in an interesting enough way. Stanleyville’s themes are clear and carry a notable gravity, but it lacks oomph. The cast is solid enough – annoying but credible – and McCabe-Lokos gives them some wild and insane things to do. No one character stands out except maybe Maria, making it nearly impossible to care about any of them. Admittedly, it is simply just too strange for my tastes. I am giving it two stars.