Maxwell McCabe-Lokos’ Stanleyville confines itself to a single room, a kind-of auditorium space that could be found among your local long-term care facilities. Barren, disheveled, and ultimately anonymous, the environment articulates rather bluntly the film’s formal and aesthetic qualities; it’s this room, and the failed coloring of its geography, that submits to us an utter lack of insight and intuition and abandons its cast of characters to an aimless whimsy. Stanleyville follows Maria (Suzanne Wuest), a lowly office worker with little-to-no reason for living, at least in the context of her current affairs. In nothing short of a miracle, she is approached by a stranger who offers her a placement in some game — its prize a standard and polished SUV — and sees this moment as a sign of rejuvenation, as an opportunity to reimagine her life and live vigorously. However, she soon finds herself stuck in this room with four strangers, each vying for this monotonous reward.
McCabe-Lokos seems intent on cloaking the relationships and dynamics of his characters with obtuseness. Certainly, the decision to do so crystallizes any dramaturgical friction into short humor, although it simultaneously estranges us from the troupe. A capacity for emotional intellection is stunted and each player strays from wall to wall, corner to corner, without any discernible orchestration. McCabe-Lokos cuts frequently between Oners, stares glazing over as the image emptily fixates on covering each action. If the editing weren’t as imprecise, there might be an argument to be made for the innate solipsism that defines the relationships and the dramatic inertness of the whole work. The persistent failure, however, to conceive of connective tissue between the elements it engages with (either through some development of narrative or in formal playfulness) ensures that the thematically derivative interests and pedestrian existential angsts of Stanleyville on the whole amount to little more than nothing at all: no intrigue, no query, no quandary of any sort. We’re left with a vacuous representation of undefined space, and no particular way to even interpolate ideation in between the gaping cracks of logic and affect.
Published as part of Fantasia Fest 2021 — Dispatch 5.