Review by Camden Ferrell
Stanleyville is the feature directorial debut of actor Maxwell McCabe-Lokos. Written by McCabe-Lokos and Rob Benvie, this quirky film had its premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival in 2021. This black comedy starts out with a really interesting and eccentric concept but unfortunately suffers at the hands of an inferior second half of the film.
Maria is a woman who is burdened in life with a meaningless job, an incompetent husband, and an insufferable daughter. One day, she decides to walk away from her life. Shortly after, she’s invited to compete in an odd and bizarre contest with other people to win an orange SUV. This contest of increasingly strange and somewhat dangerous tasks isn’t an entirely new concept in media, but it is one that has some inherent intrigue.
The writers do a great job with setting up this premise in an efficient manner. The beginning is paced very well, and it gets us to the crux of the plot sooner rather than later which works well for the overall movie. The dialogue is interesting between the contestants, but somewhere around the middle of the movie, it fails to maintain its established momentum. In the last half as tensions continue to rise, it’s hard to maintain the same level of interest due to the novelty wearing off somewhat.
The acting is above average throughout. The movie is led by Susanne Wuest who is decent as she gives a subdued and subtle performance as Maria. Other actors like Christian Serritiello and Cara Ricketts are what give the movie a lot of its drive and contribute to the exaggerated quirkiness of the other elements in the movie. Overall, the cast is above average on their own, but they sometimes lack the necessary chemistry for a single location movie like this one.
The movie is well shot by cinematographer Cabot McNenly. Despite what flaws are present with the narrative direction of the film, you can always rely on it to be composed well to give the film a polished feel on the surface. This along with the production design contribute to the film’s oddball and quirky tone and aesthetic.
The biggest problem with this movie is how it sets up the premise very well, but it delivers a rather unsatisfying payoff in its last half. The execution in the latter half of the film doesn’t feel nearly as inspired as what came before. There was a lot of intrigue and whimsy involved in the premise that doesn’t feel properly explored or executed. There are some narrative directions that don’t work too well and ultimately bog this film down more than it should have.
Stanleyville is a quirky film with quirky characters and a quirky premise. Some might revel in its eccentricities, but I find the film to end poorly despite having a strong foundation. Despite everything, it shows significant promise for its director as he is able to create a convincingly bizarre atmosphere for a first-time feature film director.
Stanleyville is in theaters April 22.
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