(director/writer: Maxwell McCabe-Lokos; screenwriter: Rob Benvie; cinematographer: Cabot McNenly; editors: Duff Smith/Graham Tucker; music: Joseph Shabason; cast: Susanne Wuest (Maria Barbizan), Cara Ricketts (Felicie Arkady), Christian Serritiell (Andrew Frisbee, Jr.), Adam Brown (Manny Jumpcannon), George Tchortov (Bofill Pancreas), Julian Richings (Homunculus); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer; Hayley Brown: Oscilloscope; 2021-Canada)

The bizarre film held my attention throughout, even if it made no sense.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Maxwell McCabe-Lokos is the Canadian-born character actor turned director in his feature film debut after directing several shorts. He presents this low-budget, off-beat arthouse film– a strange one, that he co-writes with Rob Benvie. It’s a weird satirical chamber drama on society, that’s set mostly in one room, but it’s never clear what’s being satirized.

Maria Barbizan (Susanne Wuest) is a gentle woman who has given up her boring office job, her inept husband, her delinquent face tattooed daughter, and on her dull life. After throwing out her purse and identification, she takes a seat on a massage chair at a shopping mall and is approached by a strange European man who calls himself Homunculus (Julian Richings), offering her the chance to compete in a game that will “probe the very essence of [her] mind-body articulation” and offers a prize to the winner of a brand-new habanero-orange compact SUV and personal transcendence. Having nothing to lose and not caring about winning, only in finding out more about herself, Maria takes him up on his offer.

Maria is locked in a blue room with four oddball strangers who all have their own reasons for being contestants: the American Felicie Arkady (Cara Ricketts), an amoral, no-nonsense, Black woman, who would kill to win; Bofill Pancreas (George Tchortov), an Ecuadorian fitness fanatic, who works for a supplement pyramid scheme company and loves his protein shakes; Manny Jumpcannon (Adam Brown), a fuck-up drug-addict who failed as a performer and is delusional, always excusing his failures; and Andrew Frisbee Jr. (Christian Serritiello), a crypto finance man who takes himself far too serious and has no apparent reason for being in such a contest.

The dead-panned Homunculus randomly picked the contestants, arrives in the contest room in a drab suit with a backpack and drily tells the contestants the winner is the one who wins the most rounds in the eight-round contest, and that they must never leave the facility or will be ruled out of the contest. The moderator seems to be making things up as he goes along explaining things and frequently gets things wrong but is corrected by the contestants.

Round- one calls for each contestant to blow up and pop as many balloons as possible in 60 seconds. The second round calls for them to arrange a collection of odd objects in their correct order — also in 60 seconds. As the games advance, the contests get stranger and darker.

In the third round, they must write a national anthem in around two hours to inspire the world.

The bizarre film held my attention throughout even if it made no sense.

It comes with a body count and a winner we can’t root for.

It asks the contestants to think more about the human condition than themselves.

The set-up is clever, the performances are uniformly fine and the film is intriguing. But it needed more clarity, as the absurdity couldn’t give its strangeness the depth it needed to make it more than a cartoonish attempt to be theatrically Brechtian. 

It premiered at Montreal’s Fantasia in 2021.

REVIEWED ON 4/20/2022  GRADE: B-