While “Candiland” is undeniably great on a conceptual level, the film fails to deepen the problems it wishes to explore.
“Candiland” vivisects a toxic relationship of one dysfunctional couple. Peter (James Clayton), a once-star tennis player and Tessa (Chelah Horsdal), a plain girl that desperately looks for love, are in love. They lock themselves up in Peter’s apartment, creating a separate world they call “Candiland”. Shut-in, the couple deteriorates and slowly dies. Their last hope is Peter’s father, Arnie (Gary Busey).
“Candiland” is about losing your sanity
Madness has many faces. People can be blinded with power, like in Shakespearean’s “Macbeth”. Some will succumb to their ego and feeling of self-greatness, and then there are those who want to watch the world burn (like Joker in “The Dark Knight”). Behind each of that type of insanity, usually there is pain.
Rusty Nixon claims so in “Candiland”. Peter is a hurt man, crushed by a fragile relationship with his father and the past that haunts him. He wishes to escape. But in the modern world, you can’t really remain off the grid. Nixon hints at it by phone marketers who nag Peter, even despite his disappearance. The best way to go nuts is to shut the doors and stay in your beloved four walls for eternity. That’s precisely what Peter chooses to do.
But Peter is not alone in his mind-losing. Tess is on board as well, and the couple drowns in a squared apartment, pissing in the corners, eating cookies and painting some Dadaistic daubers on the walls. That’s a terrifying view. Two people bonded together by pain, all fostered by their mutual love-hate relationship.
Time is no longer present, days falls into one, long stream of random scraps of their existence. Peter’s transformation – that ends up with him reminiscing a concentration camp prisoner – is both tragic and appalling. However it is Tessa that truly frightens. She is fascinated by Peter, but seems to suck out the energy from him. Whether Tess writes love poems, or even sees a Messiah in him, there is a toxic undercoat to it.
The premise of “Candiland” is, however, wasted because of its amateurish execution.
The examination of these two insane people is disturbing. The titular place that Tessa and Peter create is haunting. Yet, Nixon’s film doesn’t hit as hard as it should. When you compare it to “Monster” with Charlize Theron, “Candy” starring Heath Ledger or Polanski’s “The Tenant”, it’s a lackluster effort of a much less skillful filmmaker. One that lacks patience and the surgical precision with which this story should be unveiled.
“Candiland” is truly terribly edited too. I understand the idea behind eyelid-cuts between each scene, but it seems like covering-up pitiful skills in editing. Some parts of the story are also sloppy, like the subplot with Peter’s father. Nixon mixes timelines, which reveals the destiny of Tess and Peter early on. Such an idea of “crime scene” thread ends up artificial as well. Focus on Peter and Tessa’s ugly downfall would be more beneficial for Nixon, because those other bits are completely off. Nixon wanted too much to tell or – on the contrary – had to little to say, but still needed to fill in the gaps. Either way, one is absolutely certain – there was no necessity to see Gary Busey massaging women feet. “Candiland” was weird anyway.
Candiland (2016) – Culturally Hated or Loved?
Rusty Nixon’s film falls into the category of guilty pleasures for indie cinema fans – it’s badly executed, but has the amount of fun factor that keeps it going.
Dir. Rusty Nixon
Hate Grade: 6/10