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STANLEYVILLE: 3 STARS. “like ‘Squid Game,’ minus the giant Kewpie doll.”

Imagine if Samuel Beckett wrote “Squid Game,” minus the giant Kewpie doll, and you’ll understand “Stanleyville,” a new darkly humorous social satire now on VOD.

The ennui of a dead-end job and unsatisfying relationship with her husband and daughter has draped over apathetic suburbanite Maria Barbizan (Susanne Wuest) like a shroud. One day, tired of… well, everything, she rids herself of her money and purse in a mall trashcan and wanders aimlessly.


Into this fugue state walks the smartly dressed Homunculus (Julian Richings), a mysterious figure with an intriguing offer. She, he tells her, has been chosen, alongside a group of other idiosyncratic characters— spoiled brat Andrew Frisbee Jr (Christian Serritiello), Felice Arkady (Cara Rickets), Manny Jumpcannon (Adam Brown) and muscle-head Bofill Pancreas (George Tchortov)—to take part in a “platinum level contest” to “probe the very essence of mind/body articulation.” She doesn’t understand what that means, and the prize of a used habanero-orange compact sport utility vehicle doesn’t interest her either but the promise of true enlightenment or an “authentic personal transcendence” lures her in.

The promised so-called “platinum level contest” is actually a “Lord of the Flies” style reality show competition with Homunculus as host and referee. A series of strange games—at one point they are challenged to “write a national anthem for everybody everywhere through all time”—with escalating consequences pits the players against one another. Along the way they earn points and gain insight into their deepest held beliefs, “every man for himself” ethos and worst inclinations.

Actor-turned-director Maxwell McCabe-Lokos paints his characters in very broad strokes. Each one is an archetype that range from nihilist to failed performer to a Bay Street type, with easy-to-read characteristics that speak to one element of the human condition.

That, however, is the only easy-to-read aspect of “Stanleyville.”

Willfully weird, the movie is all journey. The strange situation doesn’t really go anywhere, and, given Homunculus’s ambiguous motivations, the movie doesn’t offer any closure to the characters or many questions it presents. It’s about the competition, the win-at-any-cost vibe so often evident in competition shows. This is an absurdist take on the same, but as the situation begins to unravel so does the story. The social commentary remains, but viewers hoping to for enlightenment, may enjoy the story’s oddball but thought-provoking themes, but, like Maria, leave the movie still in search of life changing spiritual illumination.

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