Candlestick (Workbus, NR)

candlestick 75Even if you take the film as a parody of old-style detective stories, it’s not really amusing enough to succeed on that score either.

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Christopher Presswell must be a great admirer of Alfred Hitchcock because the title sequence of his second film, Candlestick, is a spot-on homage to Saul Bass’ famous title sequence for Psycho, right down to the discordant score by Jonathan Armandary. The opening of the film continues the Psycho theme, with a helicopter shot of London, block letters revealing the location, date, and time, and the zeroing in on a couple in the afterglow of sex they shouldn’t be having.

Unfortunately, that’s where the fidelity to the spirit of Hitchcock ends. The couple are the modern equivalent of Bright Young Things, steeped in their privilege, sure of their cleverness, and devoid of any human characteristics that could elicit your empathy. The setting is a posh apartment, all exposed brick and stainless steel kitchen appliances set off by affectations like an antique phone, which is exactly where you’d expect to find two such characters.

Jack (Andrew Fitch) and Vera (Isla Ure) are the couple having the affair. Later in the day, Jack has a few friends over, including Vera and her husband Frank (Nigel Thomas), who is unaware of what’s taking place behind his back, and the obligatory police detective, Major Burns (Tom Knight). What seems to be an ordinary social gathering soon spins out of control, with Jack playing the puppet-master who jerks the others’ strings.

Candlestick takes place almost entirely within Jack’s apartment, giving it the feel of a filmed play. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good play, and the actors don’t succeed in making their characters convincing—instead, they declaim their lines as if taking part in a 1930s radio play. The dialogue is sometimes clever but mostly just unbelievable, and the Jack and Vera in particular are so arch it’s a wonder they don’t become impaled on their own brittle wit. Things do get a bit more interesting in the last ten minutes or so, but chances are you’ve given up caring about these characters long before that point. The fact that the action takes place in a single evening also means that, unlike in Psycho, there was no point in being so specific about the date and time in the title sequence.

There are plenty of influences beside Hitchcock at work in Candlestick, including Agatha Christie (how many of her plays and stories were based on stock characters in a confined situation?) and the board game of Clue (“Colonel Mustard in the Library with the…”), the latter hung with a lampshade by having the characters briefly play the game. There’s lots of verbal sparring among the characters, but it never feels like much is at stake, just a bunch of people trying to show off how clever they are when the world would actually be no poorer if they all ceased to exist. Even if you take the film as a parody of old-style detective stories, it’s not really amusing enough to succeed on that score either.

Candlestick will have a limited theatrical run, and will also be available on VOD beginning April 11 and on DVD and Blu-Ray beginning April 14. More information about theatrical bookings and other ways to watch the film are available from the film’s official website. | Sarah Boslaugh

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