When a new Candyman film was initially announced, there was a degree of ambiguity regarding whether or not the film would be a sequel to or a remake of 1992’s horror classic. What director Nia DaCosta has deftly created is perhaps the best of both worlds; a sequel that, while tied directly to that original tale, completely reinvents what has gone before and reimagines the Candyman legend for a more socially savvy horror generation.
Our story follows artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his curator partner Brianna (Teyonah Parris) who have moved into one of the newly gentrified apartments in Cabrini-Green where the original film was set. Struggling for inspiration, Anthony stumbles across the Candyman legend by speaking to local laundry owner William (Colman Domingo) who tells him of a variation on the original film’s terrifying legend. As Anthony falls further and further under the thrall of the Candyman legend, dark and bloody murder begins to stalk his friends and colleagues as he uncovers some long-buried and terrifying truths from his past.
We all remember Tony Todd’s iconic performance from the original film as Daniel Robitaille, a talented artist tortured to death in the 1800’s by white slave owners for falling in love with a white woman. Say his name in front of a mirror five times and he appears, a bloody hook in the stump where his hand used to be ready to slice you from gullet to gut. He was a force of nature born out of rage and injustice, the swarming bees that nestled in his torso creating an oddly gruesome and romantic character that has withstood the test of time.
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But Candyman 2021 is a very different beast from its 90’s predecessor. While the central hook (heh) remains, Nia DaCosta reinvents the mythos of the Candyman; no longer a singular character, the legend now appears to be a title passed down by subsequent generations. New tales are recounted as the title of Candyman is bestowed upon various individuals, all suffering at the hands of white oppression and bloody, undeserved violence. The film is an interesting look at the power that myth and legend still have in today’s world, and in so doing reframes the nature of the Candyman as a cursed title to be inherited; an anti-hero whose bloody violence has been repurposed into a weapon of the oppressed.
Abdul-Mateen II (Watchmen, Black Mirror) is terrific in the central role, obsessed with finding his place in the art world at any cost. He anchors the film with a performance that manages to evoke sympathy and terror when required, before he is finally consumed by a seemingly unavoidable fate. The scenes of his manic painting of the Candyman in his workshop feel sweaty and sticky as we watch him breathlessly working to bring his visions to life; these moments are filled with a dangerous energy that infects the screen.
Teyonah Parris (Wandvision, Empire) doesn’t get as much to do as I would have liked, but her chemistry with Abdul-Mateen II is strong and she makes for an interesting but ultimately under-utilised addition to the cast.
Curiously, for a film so bathed in the blood of the innocent, the violence in the film often takes place just offscreen. While there are some arresting visuals to be had by obfuscating the full extent of the gore, you do feel sometimes that the director is holding back a little too much. The aftermath of the violence is often well realised, but perhaps there is a benefit to showing us the full wrath of the Candyman at work
Where DaCosta excels is in the film’s quieter, more sinister moments; the reflection of something moving in the windows or the sight of the Candyman watching proceedings unseen in the background mirror provide more than enough chills throughout. You find yourself checking every reflective surface in the frame for a glimpse of this most unusual of bogeymen.
Co-written and produced by Jordan Peele, it is hard not to feel his hand in some of the story-beats; much like his self-directed work Get Out and Us, Peele has a sharp eye for political commentary and for capturing a snap-shot of life for black people in America. He is unafraid to pull back the veneer of civility and show the poisonous underbelly of American culture, and Candyman is no different. Unfortunately, the film is at times a little too heavy-handed in making these points, especially towards the film’s final act. Removing the subtlety of the subtext of these scenes robs those moments of their power, delivering a morality tale that while well intentioned can feel clunky.
Shadow puppets are used throughout to great effect, fleshing out the history of the Candyman and providing an opportunity for the original film’s eerie and beautiful score to creep back into proceedings. While there are no MCU style post-credit stings, I recommend staying through the credits to watch the amazing stories that play out silently by candlelight. The film’s closing credits lingered with me in the days after seeing the film and are a genuinely beautiful way to close the story.
The first two-thirds of the film are slowly paced, building tension before moments of horror punctuate the story with bloody intent. It is in the move to the film’s final act that Candyman runs into problems; characters begin to unspool information that we have had no hints at before, making enormous leaps of narrative faith that don’t quite add up in the films finale. While not enough to derail the film entirely, it does make for a rushed and messy third act that would have benefited by being another twenty minutes longer.
DaCosta’s movie is a political animal that is very much a product of its time and of the black experience in America that has become increasingly volatile and fragile. While the themes of the film become a little too on the nose, terrific performances and some genuinely thrilling scares manage to make Candyman a film to remember.
By: Hugh McStay
Watch Candyman 2021 in cinemas now and stream the original on Netflix.