Stanleyville offers us a look into true mundanity, and a possible way out. When an office worker with a seemingly banal life is offered a chance – chosen, in fact, by an odd man named Homonculus — to join a competition with 4 other strangers, she jumps at the opportunity to make something of herself and to do something different. The prize of the competition? A habanero orange compact sport utility vehicle. Or, maybe, complete mind-body actualization. All she has to do is abandon her life.
Maria Barbizan, our lead character (Susanne Wuest), is plain in every possible way. Having a plain and boring lead character can sometimes make a film feel slow to watch, but Wuest plays Maria with a quiet grace that usually keeps the film moving along. Even though all we really know about Maria is that her job is boring and that her family life is unfulfilling, she has a sweetness that will likely make you want to root for her. That, or it’s just like she seems like by far the most normal person out of her fellow competitors.
While some of Maria’s fellow competitors, mainly the American Felicie Arkady, are focused on winning, Maria is interested in the experience. Each of the other competitors is a clear satirization of someone you have probably met. Among these competitors are Bofill Pancreas, an Ecuadorian fitness fantatic who loves his MLM company (he’s constantly drinking shakes, and he’ll want to tell you about his way of life), and we’ve got Andrew Frisbee (Jr)., a finance crypto-bro who takes himself very seriously, and provides endless mansplaining throughout the film.
Stanleyville is funny and silly, but also dark. It’s this dichotomy that makes this no exit play an interesting watch. Maria is focused on finding her way “back to her real self” as she makes her way through each stage of the competition and as the stakes seem to get a little higher. Stanleyville is not an escape room or horror movie, but instead a movie that wants to ask us existential questions.
The Fantasia Film Festival takes place in person and online from August 5 – August 25
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