Candyman finally becomes the centrepiece of his own story in Nia DaCosta’s buzzy horror film, Candyman, and the long-anticipated final cut ends up being an entertaining ride, despite some story missteps along the way.
Billed as a “spiritual sequel” to the 1992 slasher classic starring Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd as the titular bee-ensconced killer, the newest take on Candyman completely ignores the wretched sequels that followed the original film. Director DaCosta co-wrote the script along with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld, giving the film a much-needed focal shift away from a white protagonist to not just a stellar Black cast, but to the ongoing systemic racism and cycle of violence perpetrated against the Black community.
Beginning with a flashback to 1977 and to the origin of the Candyman killer—a Black man in the projects accused of putting razor blades in candy—the film then picks up in present-day Cabrini-Green, Chicago. Long gone are the crumbling tower blocks where Daniel Robitaille (Todd) and Madsen’s Helen Lyle met their fiery fates; now its the gentrified and hip condo-land that artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) call home. It’s the perfect setting for the two to sit and sip Moscato with Brianna’s brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), discussing how “white people built the ghetto and then erased it when they realized they built the ghetto.”
We have Troy to thank for introducing the core duo to the tale of the Candyman—a story that inspires Anthony to explore new artistic themes. Quickly consumed by the legend of the serial killer, the artist’s journey of discovery leads him to William (Colman Domingo), an old-timer who relays Candyman’s origin story to Anthony. As his obsession grows, we’re introduced to a new exhibit piece from Anthony: a mirror piece entitled “Say His Name”. The mirror invites spectators, naturally, to say his name and, as foolish people do foolish things in horror movies, they do. Five times in a mirror. And guess what? It works.
There are many things Candyman gets right. Giving the 1992 story an update that ties into today’s political climate, right down to the film’s “Say His Name” tagline, is a smart move, as is making Candyman the focus of his own story. The best horror films have always reflected the major fears of their time, so it makes sense that one of Candyman‘s most fearsome elements is not the man with a hook for a hand and bees as his BFFs, but the brutality of white law enforcement against people of colour. The numerous references to gentrification, systemic racism and the legend of Candyman aren’t as successfully woven into the film’s framework as they are in, say, Get Out and Us, but the parallels make Candyman feel equally timely.
Where Candyman really hits it out of the park is its cast. Abdul-Mateen II is mesmerizing to watch. Echoing a descent into madness worthy of Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, Abdul-Mateen II takes the idea of the tortured artist to new levels. He’s perfectly balanced by Parris’ performance as his girlfriend, struggling to stand by her partner as she watches his obsession take hold.
This is a film that also looks good—really good. DaCosta’s eye is spot-on. She weaves this tale perfectly, leading the camera through every beautifully blood-soaked and horrifying scene. It’s refreshing to see the female gaze set its sights on a shirtless Abdul-Mateen II, subverting the usual trope of naked, bloody females in male-directed horror. Equally spellbinding is the puppetry used to tell the story of Candyman. As seen in the trailer, these inventive silhouettes are captivating, providing a fresh take on what would otherwise be a rote flashback sequence.
While the film’s critiques and commentary on the world of art nearly reach Velvet Buzzsaw proportions, parts of the story feel haphazard, failing to make the film’s characters resonate with the audience. Loose ends dangle in the breeze—an unnecessary fault given that, at a brisk 91-minute runtime, there was enough time to explore each thread further. Candyman had big shoes (hooks?) to fill—in terms of anticipation of its release (delayed due to the pandemic), the creative team involved, and the resurrection of a classic horror—and it was unlikely to meet the heightened expectations placed on it. To be sure, some will come away disappointed that this take did not push the horror and gore elements further.
While Candyman‘s centre may not be as tasty as it should be, it is nevertheless an entertaining watch filled with Easter eggs for devoted horror fans and it should propel both its cast and director onto Hollywood’s A-list.
Candyman arrives in theatres on August 27.