US / 21 minutes / color / Drumbeater Dir: David Karlak Pr: Marcus Dunstan Scr: Marcus Dunstan, Patrick Melton Story: “The Candidate” (1961 Rogue) by Henry Slesar Cine: Brandon Cox Cast: Tom Gulager, Robert Picardo, Meghan Markle, Vyto Ruginis, P.J. Byrne, Thomas Duffy.
Burton Grunzer (Gulager) is a ruthless executive determined to climb the corporate ladder but saddled with a klutz as his presentation partner, Whitman Hayes (Duffy); somehow, though, despite all his bumbling inadequacies, Hayes does succeed in selling the product—because, although Grunzer does not and probably cannot recognize this, Hayes comes across as a genuine human being. That the big boss, Alexander (Ruginis), advises Grunzer that he ought to be grateful for his good fortune in having such a partner merely rubs salt into the wounds.
Alexander (Vyto Ruginis), the Alpha Male’s Alpha Male.
One day at work Grunzer is pestered by texts and then a hand-delivered letter from a certain Carl Tucker (Picardo), Secretary of something called the Society for United Action. Eventually he gives Tucker ten minutes of his time, and the man explains his mission: “The Society for United Action believes that some people are just not fit to live.”
Grunzer’s secertary Kat (Meghan Markle) opens Tucker’s invitation.
Some years ago, apparently, a DA and a criminal psychiatrist witnessed a vicious child-murderer walk free because of a glib defense lawyer, and they determined to try an experiment. They told him that from now on, each and every day, they’d be wishing him dead. Two months later, he was. Inspired by this early success, the men repeated the experiment, again successfully. From that point the Society for United Action just growed, until it now has over a thousand members and has already persuaded over a hundred people to die.
Is Grunzer interested? You bet—thinking loathingly of Hayes—he is.
Grunzer (Tom Gulager) can barely conceal his boredom as he listens to Tucker’s spiel.
Several of the crew on The Candidate—Dunstan, Melton, Cox, Karlak—have been involved in some fairly frontline horror movies, including various of the Saw series. I’ve no idea what decided them to recruit such an excellent cast to adapt a Henry Slesar story, but the result is remarkably effective. The movie’s shot with a sort of clinical sharpness that conveys perfectly the sterile chill of the corporate environment—or, at least, the way Grunzer sees that environment and the people around him. Contributing also to this is the mise-en-scène: although the foregrounds tend to be hard-edged and uncluttered, as in the long conversation between Tucker and Grunzer, there’s almost always movement in the background, as office workers move to and fro along those crisply designed but ultimately lifeless corridors.
Robert Picardo turns in a pitch-perfect performance as Tucker.
The soundtrack is pounding, percussive and omnipresent—as befits a production company called Drumbeater. Manipulative though this is, it does succeed in building up a certain level of tension even though the movie’s action consists largely of nothing more than people talking to each other. That said, I imagine it could get wearisome on repeated viewings.
It’s not often that closing credits deserve special mention. Here, though, they’re spliced in with shots of various of the cast whom we’ve met as Grunzer, his paranoia erupting, sees in a new light those whom he has despised or treated as toadies. Is his secretary Kat (Markle)—whom he clearly regards as little more than a beautiful if useful corporate trophy—really as loyal as he has believed? Likewise Paul (Byrne), Grunzer’s apparently fawning junior colleague? Is Hayes really so harmless? And how to evaluate Tucker, that seemingly civilized, genteel, almost timid man (Picardo’s portrayal is quite superb) who carries with him the power of life and death?
Hayes (Thomas Duffy) — is he the enemy?
Henry Slesar wrote a few crime novels and a much larger number of screenplays and teleplays—many of them for Alfred Hitchcock—but his real genius lay in his short stories. These were often contes cruels with twist endings in the manner of writers like Saki and Roald Dahl. The Candidate wonderfully captures the Slesar ethos.