Movie Review: ‘Candlestick’

Candlestick opens with a Saul Bass-ian credits sequence set to music clearly inspired by Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho, thus preparing us for something delightfully Hitchcockian, but what follows is less Hitchcock than low-rent Agatha Christie. Candlestick wants badly to be a classic murdery mystery piece in the vein of Christie’s Ten Little Indians, but it is so indebted to its influences that it never manages to distinguish itself except by its flaws. This is the fundamental problem with homage: unless a homage is executed perfectly—and Candlestick most certainly is not—it inevitably raises the question, “Why watch the homage when you can just go straight to the sources instead?” Unfortunately, in Candlestick’s case, there is no answer to that question.

Candlestick is set almost entirely in a single apartment and, for the majority of its runtime, features just four characters. Jack (Andrew Fitch) is hosting a small gathering attended by his best friend Frank (Nigel Thomas) and Frank’s wife Vera (Isla Ure), as well as Frank’s uncle Major Burns (Tom Knight), an aficionado of detective stories. Jack and Vera have been carrying on an affair, and Jack uses this secret to play mind games with Frank and Vera. As the night goes on, the friendly get together turns increasingly dark.

The script by Christopher Presswell, who also directed, and Forgács W. András constructs a serviceable enough mystery with a decent third-act twist. The problem lies with Presswell’s incredibly bland direction and his very poor handling of the cast. In all respects Candlestick feels like a filmed play—with bare-bones set, cheap props and costumes, and, most critically, highly theatrical performances from the entire cast which completely obscure whatever virtues the dialogue might have. At no point does this movie seem like a gathering of human beings who know each other; it feels like a bunch of actors reciting lines to each other. This style of acting, which might work fine on the stage, is impossible to take in a movie.

If Presswell had used his direction to create an environment around the characters, he perhaps could have absorbed the theatricality into a greater directorial style. But Presswell seems to have no directorial point of view at all, and, in fact, he struggles even with basic staging and camera setups. Presswell seems to have some talent as a writer, and he seems to know the genre well, but as a director he just doesn’t seem to know how to make his material work.

There is a long tradition in England of this sort of light mystery entertainment, which means that there are many, many better examples of it than Candlestick. Midsomer Murders (which is repeatedly name-checked) has been doing the slightly tongue-in-cheek murder thing for the better part of two decades, and even a fairly mediocre episode is likely preferable to this movie (though Candlestick, at a lean 82 minutes, does have the virtue of being shorter than a Midsomer Murders episode). Heck, even a game of Clue would be more fun.

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