Biel’s performance will likely garner the most attention, and for good reason: she’s terrifying here. She plays Candy as cold and calculating, but excellent at hiding her true nature behind a veneer of Sunday school sweetness. The best parts of her performance come in the small moments, when she’s finally out of eyesight and her face subtly shifts. Her coldness doesn’t mean she’s unfeeling, however, and Biel imbues Candy with both desperate longing and bone-weary exhaustion. When she finally decides that she wants to cheat on her husband, she arranges meetings with her potential lover, Betty’s husband Allan, whom she met in church. The two list the pros and cons of having an affair and eventually neatly schedule their rendezvous, in what is possibly the least sexy foreplay ever. When they get to the hotel, however, the passion starts to become clear. Schrieber is a perfect fit for Allan, because he’s attractive enough to at least see part of Candy’s reasoning, and he manages to be charming even when he’s being a total scumbag. Lynskey is excellent as Betty, though her role is the one that gets the shortest shrift. There are attempts at injecting some of her voice back into the story after the murder takes place, but they are few and far between, and end up feeling like a half-measure.
“Candy” is a horror story, though it trades in shocks and gore for slow, creeping dread. Every moment with Candy and Betty truly feels like the precursor to something terrible, even when Candy does something nice, like throw Betty a baby shower. The series lingers in the most awkward and uncomfortable moments, presenting the viewer with situations too nightmarish to contend with. It’s as if the camera is pointing at each of the people involved and asking them how they live with themselves, because everyone is so deeply troubled. There’s a touch of Gillian Flynn’s work, like “Gone Girl” or “Sharp Objects” here, examining how the patriarchy can lead to women lashing out in terrifying ways, but it thankfully never tries to make Candy an antihero.
The biggest problem with “Candy” is the pacing. The series creeps its way through the events leading up to the murder, then spends a bit of time in the immediate aftermath and investigation. The murder itself is (thankfully) only briefly shown, though there are a few graphic shots of deep wounds. Once Candy is on trial, the series speeds up tremendously, rushing through the legal proceedings before delivering the verdict and fading to black. While such an ending is somewhat powerful, that power is lessened by the way the final episode rushes through everything. Even the investigation could have been better portrayed, because the facts are too fascinating to leave out. For example, Wiley is such a small, peaceful town that the police used packing tape to block the crime scene because they didn’t really have a need to have crime scene tape on hand. The inexperienced police officers caused major problems for the investigation, including moving evidence (which is at least depicted) and trying to use plastic sandwich bags to cover the ax handle to protect any fingerprints. The murder had an impact on an entire community, and Candy’s lawyer died by suicide years later, in part because he felt guilty for defending her. Spending time languidly turning up the tension for four episodes only to rush through it all and then announce “the end” unfortunately doesn’t make for compelling television.
True crime fans are sure to find things to appreciate in the series, and fans of cinematic storytelling will appreciate the good cinematography and great performances, but in the end, “Candy” is a little bit of a mess. Is it a social horror about feeling trapped by gender roles? Is it a morality tale about the dangers of extramarital sex? Is it a basic horror story about the woman next door who snaps and hits her friend with an ax 41 times? It’s all of these to some degree, but it never commits to any one thing fully enough to feel satisfying.
/Film Rating: 6 out of 10
“Candy” premieres May 9, 2022 on Hulu.