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film review

In Stanleyville, a dissatisfied woman abandons her career and her family when she gets the chance to compete in a bizarre and dangerously flawed contest.Courtesy of levelFILM

Stanleyville

Directed by Maxwell McCabe-Lokos

Written by Maxwell McCabe-Lokos and Rob Benvie

Starring Susanne Wuest, Cara Ricketts and Julian Richings

Classification N/A; 89 minutes

Opens in Toronto May 6, Ottawa May 13

Critic’s Pick

God bless Canadian weirdos. Stanleyville, an aggressively strange concoction from Maxwell McCabe-Lokos (a first-time feature filmmaker, but a long-time character actor), fits perfectly into the Canadiana sub-genre unofficially known as “messed up stuff.” Audiences who like their boundaries to be teased, tested and sometimes tortured will fall deep into Stanleyville’s warren of weirdness – and everyone else has probably stopped reading this review by now.

For those still hooked, Stanleyville can be sold in surprisingly easy elevator-pitch fashion: It’s Squid Game meets Big Brother. Or maybe it’s the Stanford Prison Experiment meets Cube. Or perhaps it is just what happens when you give a few hundred thousand dollars to a filmmaker with a very specific, very cult-film-moulded sensibility, and step the hell back.

Opening in Berlin (or maybe it’s Hamilton?), Stanleyville focuses on Maria (Susanne Wuest), a supremely bored office worker who has an epiphany one morning to abandon her life – which includes a daughter who has tattooed her face and a husband who doesn’t seem to do much at all – for no alternative in particular. But shortly after throwing her life away, Maria encounters a devilish stranger named Homunculus (Canadian actor Julian Richings, who has made a tidy profession of playing Grade-A creeps) who offers her a chance to participate in a contest that promises to unlock her “authentic personal transcendence.” Oh, and she might win a free habanero-coloured SUV.

Once in the thick of the contest, though – which has roped in a handful of deliberately aggravating archetypes into a single, sparsely decorated room – Maria very slowly comes to the realization that nothing is at it seems. Or maybe everything is exactly as it seems – which is supremely bizarre, unknowable, possibly supernatural, and all delivered on a wavelength that can best be described as deadpan-squared.

Susanne Wuest stars as Maria in Stanleyville.Courtesy of levelFILM

In its high-concept shtick and detail-oriented execution, Stanleyville is reminiscent of a thousand other oddities (Canadian and foreign), yet at the same time singular in its staccato peculiarity. If this is what McCabe-Lokos can do with a pittance (the film was made under Telefilm’s micro-budget Talent to Watch program), I am both excited and terrified to see what he might do given an actual budget.

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