- Movie Rating -

Stanleyville (2022)

| April 22, 2022

What are the limits of your human instinct for greed?  How far would you go for a nuclear-orange compact sport utility vehicle?  Would you be willing to write an entire national anthem in just 2 hours?  Create a bit of technology?  Could you blow up a lot of balloons in under a minute?  How about collecting a human earlobe?  If a stranger walked up to you in an empty neon-infused mall and offered you that SUV for doing all of the above, would you take it?

That’s the setting for Maxwell McCabe-Loko’s directorial debut Stanleyville, a movie that is both a surreal satire on human endurance and a strange consideration on our own survival instincts.  

We begin with Maria (Suzanne Wuest) who witnesses a bird smash into the window of the high-rise where she works.  She is clearly one of life’s place-holders, a woman that you wouldn’t notice in a crowd and probably not even if she were alone.  The bird is a clear indication that something is slightly off in this universe and so too are her commitment to her life in general – shortly thereafter she throws all of her belongings, including her money, into a nearby trash bin.

That’s when fate steps in . . . or at least a bobby of suspicious machinations, whatever you please.  Defeatedly seated at an empty mall she is approached by a bird-like gentlemen with a clipboard who speaks in sentences that sound rather alien – like he’s learned human speech from hearing it second-hand.  His name is Homunculus and he offers her an opportunity, for she has been selected for an experiment in which she will achieve “authentic personal transcendence” and also discover “the very essence of mind-body articulation.”  Whatever that means, Maria feels that she has nothing to lose, after all Mr. Homunculus informs her that she has been selected out of thousands or maybe millions of candidates.  She can’t say no, and she doesn’t despite knowing no other information.

My flagging instinct would have been to see this as a scam, but no, it’s real.  BIZARRE, but real.  It all takes place in what looks like a classroom complete with cement brick walls, beds and a chalkboard.  There are four other contestants of varying degrees of goofiness.  Manny (Adam Brown) is an over-the-top wannabe actor.  Bofill (George Tchortov) is a muscle-head constantly trying to push protein powder.  Felcie (Cara Ricketts) has street smarts and really wants that SUV.  And theres Andrew (Christian Serritiello) who is an apparent a financial wizard who badly needs therapy for daddy issues.  It is difficult to understand exactly why these five people have been chosen for this experiment, but the commonality of their gullibility seems to hang in the air.

The experiment itself ranges from the reasonable to the surreal.  the parameters seem to reside somewhere between a stress test and an escape room. Homunculus presents the terms in each of the eight challenges and then records them on a leaderboard.  We start with the balloon exercise, then comes the national anthem, then a task to invent a new telecommunication device and later the earlobe.  None of it makes any cohesive sense, nor is it ever really explained.  The point is to see how far these knuckle-beaks will go to survive the test and get that SUV once social norms begin to break down.  They all have different ways of approaching the test, and all seem to be looking at Maria as if she knows something she’s not telling.  

Actually, she doesn’t.  There’s an heir of mystery about her or possibly no mystery at all.  Why is she so passive?  Why does she stare at that picture of Henry Stanley on the wall?  As the tensions mount, the challenges become more and more surreal and psyches begin to crack, we start looking for answers.

That’s really the failing of the movie.  Or is it?  There isn’t really a destination for this story.  It’s an experiment, not just on the characters but on the audience.  Those looking for a clear destination will walk away feeling a little empty.  Those understanding that this is not a movie with a destination will know that it’s all a snake eating its tale.  What happens in the third act will vary with your expectations.  Stanleyville is one of those movies for which those movie analysis videos on YouTube are made.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy