Would you give up your life to compete for the chance to win a car? Maria (Susanne Wuest) walks away from her boring office job and her annoying family without hesitation in “Stanleyville,” writer / director Maxwell McCabe-Lokos‘ dark and eccentric debut feature film. This quirky comedy is a mash-up of “Squid Game” and “Survivor,” with a delightfully surrealist, avant-garde energy.
When a stranger (Julian Richings) approaches Maria about a sweepstakes in which she’s been chosen to participate, the allure is too great to resist. She accepts the invitation without knowing anything about the game or the rules, following the mystery man to a secret apartment location. There are several other contestants (George Tchortov, Christian Serritiello, Cara Ricketts, and Adam Brown), all with different skills and backgrounds, all of them with different reasons for wanting to take home the grand prize — a bright orange SUV. The first tasks seem harmless enough, but it’s when the competition starts to demand (and draw) actual blood that things escalate.
It’s a conventional setup, but the film gives a creative spin to the who, what, and why of the situation. Each chosen participant has different strengths and weaknesses, which will make you question if they were selected with a purpose or just random chance. The most savvy are tasked with outwitting the others, and it’s all driven by the desire to finish in first place.
Too much time is spent on the long-winded character development, yet it still feels like we never get to truly know much about each contestant. This is a minor criticism as the contenders are oddly appealing, and the performances are terrific.
The game clues aren’t always inventive, but they are at least interesting and filled with plenty of twists and turns, and it’s easy to quickly get drawn in to the story. Once you start this film, you will have a strong desire to see how it ends.
The eventual payoff may frustrate some, but “Stanleyville” is a very different, very strange movie. It’s nonsensical, idiosyncratic, awfully funny, and truly one of a kind.