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 concept of a “perfect crime” may well be best suited to the lurid pages of hardboiled fiction, but if ever a bona fide baddie has gotten away with murder, 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 eventually acquitted of all charges; a result which left their tight-knit Texan neighbourhood reeling—and one that this solemn five-parter 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 anguish, its non-linear framework 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 momme 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—on leave from her exquisite, career-defining tenure on Showtime’s 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 spouse and parent scrambling to stay afloat in a whirlpool of domestic discouragement. Both stars are bolstered by intuitive writing that treats its subjects as three-dimensional people rather than period caricatures, while the splintered narrative—a sure-fire headache in the wrong hands—is kept clean and crisp by the salient work of alternating helmers Michael Uppendahl, Jennifer Getzinger, Ben Semanoff, and Tara Nicole Weyr.

First-rate 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 is a meticulous grasp of style, with suffocating ’70s décor, eccentric camerawork, nightmarish audio, and a sickly, sepia-suffused colour palette forging the most insidious small-town hellscape this side of Twin Peaks, Wash.—and, ultimately, setting this production apart from the burgeoning true-crime rabble.

Viewers may find irritation in the fact that the one enigma we are desperate to unsnarl, the pivotal whydunit, is left predominantly unexplored; not least because the cruel, ferociously choreographed final showdown—carved from the real Montgomery’s dubious assertion of self-defence—administers such deliberate stabs of heartache and revulsion. But really, what more could one anticipate in terms of reasoning or resolve when the entire sorry affair was left so despicably open-ended? (Ms. Montgomery, to this day, is very much a free woman). Alas, the climactic courtroom 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 grim actuality that justice, though often delivered, can just as easily go unserved.

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