The Sharp, Sour Taste of ‘Candy’

[Candy is currently available to stream on Hulu in the U.S. Other territories to be confirmed.]

T

he notion of a “perfect crime” might well be best suited to the pages of hardboiled fiction, but if ever a bona fide baddie has gotten away with murder (quite literally), it’s Candy Montgomery. Accused of thwacking to death—forty-one times with a three-foot-long axe—her, ahem, best friend, Betty Gore, during a confrontation in the latter’s home on Friday the 13th of June 1980, Montgomery was subsequently acquitted of all charges; a decision that left their tight-knit Texan neighbourhood blindsided—and one which this solemn five-parter, now on Hulu, is unable to expound.

Instead, Candy—brainchild of The Act dream team Nick Antosca and Robin Veith—embroiders a riveting tapestry of societal repression and postpartum malaise, its non-linear narrative thrusting an inflexible torchlight upon the gloomiest crannies of squeaky-clean suburbia. Bewigged and bespectacled to the point of near-anonymity, a never-better Jessica Biel (as the titular mom fatale) flits from chirpy to chilling and back again, her strained smile and tranquil temperament masking years’ worth of smothered rage. Co-piloting with effortless poise, Melanie Lynskey—presently basking in the vivid glow of a career renaissance via Showtime’s unmissable Yellowjackets—illustrates poor Betty as only she knows how: with wide, yearning eyes, and a doleful visage that hints at broiling pain beneath the surface; an embittered wife and parent scrambling to stay afloat in a whirlpool of domestic discouragement. Both are bolstered by smart writing which treats its subjects as three-dimensional beings rather than period caricatures, while the story’s fractured framework—a headache if handled improperly—is kept clean and concise by the adroit work of directors Jennifer Getzinger, Ben Semanoff, Tara Nicole Weyr, and Michael Uppendahl.

Superlative performances (coming also from Pablo Schreiber and Timothy Simons as the ladies’ virile, vacant other halves) notwithstanding, the jewel in Candy’s blood-spattered crown lies in its robust technical artistry; the stifling ’70s décor, nightmarish audio, peculiar camerawork, and sickly, sepia-stained colour palette fashioning the most insidious small-town hellscape this side of Twin Peaks, Washington—and, ultimately, helping set this series apart from the overpopulated true-crime crowd.

Viewers may find vexation in the fact that the sole detail we are desperate to unearth, the pivotal whydunit, is left predominantly unexplored; not least because the cruel, furiously choreographed final showdown—carved from the real Montgomery’s dubious claim of self-defence in court—wields such deliberate stabs of heartache and revulsion. But really, what more could one anticipate in terms of reasoning or resolve when, in the despicable context of reality, the entire sorry affair was left so infuriatingly open-ended? (Ms. Montgomery, to this day, is very much a free woman). Alas, the climactic trial scenes carry with them a piercing air of melancholy, as we find ourselves attuned—through the spectral presence of a distraught Betty, starving for castigation that never comes—to the tragic verity that justice, though often delivered, can just as easily go unserved.

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