CAST: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Vanessa Estelle Williams, Rebecca Spence, Cassie Kramer, Kyle Kaminsky, Christiana Clark
RUNNING TIME: 91 mins
BASICALLY…: An artist (Abdul-Mateen II) inadvertently summon the demonic presence of the “Candyman”…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Aside from being a creepy and effective horror, the 1992 supernatural slasher Candyman was quite revolutionary at the time, for its decision to cast a black actor as the titular antagonist which, until then, was practically unheard of in mainstream horror cinema. Criticism, though, still managed to find its way through with the fact that the story was still centred around a white character – Virginia Madsen’s Helen Lyle, who ends up falling prey to Tony Todd’s hook-handed spectral figure – and did not focus as much as it could have on real, underlying themes surrounding African-American cultures and lifestyles.
That is where Candyman – circa 2021 – comes in to plug up the gaping holes, with producer and co-writer Jordan Peele lending his incredible eye and ear for socio-political themes surrounding the modern Black experience to the classic mythology of a legendary horror movie character that is given a fresh new spin that is both haunting and incredibly resonant.
Directed by Nia DaCosta (who, presumably on the back of this movie, has since been hired to direct the upcoming Marvel entry The Marvels), the film is a direct sequel to the 1992 original, wisely ignoring the two mid-to-late 90s sequels which also featured Tony Todd as Candyman but were basically inferior rehashes of the first. This one takes place nearly thirty years after the events of the first Candyman, when Chicago-based visual artist Anthony (Yahya Abdul Mateen II) is struggling to find his artistic voice. He travels to the former housing project of Cabrini-Green, which has since been all but completely demolished to make way for a gentrified neighbourhood, to get inspiration for a new installation; there, he learns from local laundromat operator William Burke (Colman Domingo) the myth of Candyman, who was once a man beaten to death by cops after being mistaken for a wrong’un, and now appears to anyone who says his name five times in a mirror, before then promptly murdering them. From Anthony’s resulting installation onwards, all sorts of carnage unfolds as people start dying left and right (almost immediately after uttering those five fateful words in whichever mirror they can find), while Anthony becomes more and more intertwined with the legend itself, something which his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris, soon to reunite with DaCosta on The Marvels) is very much a first-hand witness to.
As both a sequel to the original and its own standalone piece, Candyman offers up a serious treat. There are call-backs aplenty to the 1992 film, with the Virginia Madsen character and her fateful research into the titular myth frequently being mentioned throughout, while there are main characters in this film who tie directly to events from that film (some of the more eagle-eyed viewers may already have guessed how exactly the Anthony character connects both movies, but part of the fun is watching how these people connect the dots for themselves). There are even some interesting new additions to the overall Candyman lore, including the notion that Tony Todd’s incarnation might not be the only such figure haunting people, while his powers are a bit more instantaneous here whenever he is summoned which makes for plenty of gory and well-executed death scenes. It all adds to the myth without tarnishing it, and expands the lore beyond just the iconic presence of Tony Todd, making it a worthy sequel that the other follow-ups wished they could be.
As for how it is as its own movie, it’s a very smart and well-executed horror with its own creepy imagery, chilling performances, and a sharp awareness of very real issues dominating modern black culture. Themes of gentrification, police brutality, and even the subconscious labelling of black artists with other black artists – as though there’s only one group to be consistently compared to in the black art community – are explored in frighteningly real fashion, even with the added supernatural elements, but DaCosta, Peele and Win Rosenfeld’s script carefully avoids turning them into grandstanding moments that overshadow the rest of the plot, and even when characters do lay into these issues it feels very natural to who they are as established people. DaCosta’s direction also nails the sinister tone of its predecessor, with occasional moments of light relief that earn a good laugh (a character’s refusal to go into a dark basement got a round of laughter and applause in my screening), while the cinematography by John Guleserian is rather gorgeous to watch at times, when it’s not invoking some seriously disturbing visuals or creatively explaining backstories via shadow puppet re-enactments (which also play during the end credits, and are worth sticking around for just for the artistry on display alone).
It’s also a well-acted film, with just about every player delivering just the right kind of performance for this kind of material, ranging from wide-eyed fear to eerie mindlessness. The characters are also written well enough that you do want to see most of them avoid paying the bloody price for saying “Candyman” five times in a mirror, but you also get to know some of their backstories which make them more sympathetic (we get a brief look at Brianna’s chilling childhood, which shows why she is understandably calm during a lot of what she has to go through in the story).
The film’s third act is where things very nearly fall apart, but it’s all pulled back together by DaCosta’s soaring eye for grimy and brutal filmmaking, and a climax that does feel very satisfying (at least, from what you can make out from it; unfortunately, it’s one of those strobe-heavy climaxes that should come with its own epilepsy warning). It’s enough to make fans of the original very excited that it’s being treated with dignity and respect, while also leaving newcomers reasonably chilled with its horrifying nature and creepy visuals. Rest easy, for Candyman is not just a worthy sequel but also a terrifying reintroduction to a horror legend that’ll have new audiences fearing a new kind of movie monster.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Candyman is a smart and entertaining update, and continuation, of the 1992 cult classic, incorporating heavy themes and topics surrounding modern black culture into a chilling set of visuals that aren’t afraid to get brutal, while paying respect to the lore of the original while also adding its own unique twist on things.