The obvious comparison for Candlestick, a new indie suspense film from the UK’s Christopher Presswell, is the 1948 Hitchcock movie Rope (James Stewart, Farley Granger), which is famous for appearing as if it was shot with one continuous take. The plot is very similar too: a group of people gather at an apartment for drinks under the tension of the characters’ unaired secrets. Candlestick owes its very existence to the Hitchcockian suspense genre, along with the campiness of the board game Clue, which is where its title comes from, and is very aware of its own attempts to emulate and pay homage to both.
Jack (Andrew Fitch) invites his old friend Frank (Nigel Thomas) and Frank’s wife Vera (Isla Ure) over for an evening of drinks, games, and strange conversations centered around murder-mysteries. His uncle Major Burns (Tom Knight) also shows up to join in the fun and remind his nephew that Jack has never beaten him at any game. Jack, it turns out, is a sociopath who is having an affair with Frank’s wife and has invited the entire group to his home to psychologically toy with them so that he can feel superior about himself. The character has the potential to be terrifying, but Fitch’s performance lacks the gravity needed to take Jack seriously as a threat. Of the four performances Isla Ure’s is the only one that feels true. In fact it often feels like she is in a different movie from the other actors, a more subtle and nuanced film.
They proceed to drink a lot, fill the room with awkward silences and forced dialogue, and have an absurd amount of side conversations in the kitchen while leaving the other two characters alone in the living room, which is oddly never brought up and feels as if it was only added to get two characters alone together. These side conversations make up more of the movie than the scenes with all four characters together in the same room, which was the point of the gathering in the first place; it feels odd and poorly thought out. There are several other quirks, such as Jack only owning a rotary dial telephone in modern London, that also feel added only for the sake of servicing the script, but go without the proper explanation or exploration to convince the audience to accept it as truth.
Candlestick ultimately buckles under the weight of its own design and sufficiently lacks in its execution of an intriguing premise. The film attempts to build up the tension to give us a rewarding payoff and minor twist in the final scene. However, where Hitchcock used long silences and deliberately slow pacing to tautly ratchet up the tension to an often uncomfortable breaking point, the dead air in Candlestick just comes off as forced and unnatural. There is an interesting concept that could be worked out between these four characters, but not one of them, or the motives they carry, come off as believable or deeply explored enough to make the payoff work in the final act.