Synopsis – A “spiritual sequel” to the 1992 horror film ‘Candyman’ that returns to the now-gentrified Chicago neighborhood where the legend began.
My Take – Though often ignored in favor of Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, Candyman, a murderous ghost with a hook for a hand and old scores to settle, right from his first appearance in the 1992 film of the same name, has continued to be a horror icon especially due to its cultural significance.
In a time when Black actors where usually cast to play supporting characters in horror films, and would eventually be killed off rather half way into the run time, director Bernard Rose‘s film, which was based on a 1985 short story called ‘The Forbidden’ written by Clive Barker, not only boldly included racial violence and historical trauma into a slasher pic, he cast a chilling Tony Todd as the spirit of the son of a slave who fell in love/fathered a child with a wealthy white woman whose father subsequently had him maimed by a lynch mob, dooming him to haunt the setting in which he was slain and all of the modern-day Black Americans who inhabit it. Setting an important landmark in the cult horror canon.
Now almost three decades later, for her sophomore effort director Nia DaCosta (following the 2018 indie Little Woods), joins forces with co-writers and producers Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld, to bring back the boogeyman into modern times where racial violence and police brutality are once again in the headlines.
Though initially positioning itself as a spiritual sequel/remake of the 1992 film, director DaCosta‘s film, is actually a direct sequel which completely ignores the original subpar follow ups, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995), and Candyman: Day of the Dead (1999), and largely continues the established mythology, adds a new angle to it, and reworks it by setting it in a largely Black world. By doing so, it brings something interesting to the table, with a new focus and a contemporary eye.
Unlike the first film, where the protagonist was white woman played by Virginia Madsen, here the white characters act only as devices to drive the plot and as fodder for some artfully filmed and spectacularly gory kills.
Sure, while the forth entry into the series, is not as subtle as it could have been with its themes, but for what it lacks in nuance, it makes up for with fantastic direction from Nia DaCosta, who not only re-imagines the iconic character, but turns him into a unique psychological presence about taking ones power back, thereby maximizing its impact.
Opening with an obscure prologue set in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green houses in 1977, the story jumps to the present day and follows Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a noted visual artist who lives with his art-curator girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) in a luxury high-rise built on land that was formerly part of the projects.
Lately, Anthony has been in a creative rut, as his recent series of paintings haven’t made much noise critically or commercially, but when Brianna’s brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) tells them about the legend of Candyman, Anthony finds himself connecting to the story, and decides to make Cabrini-Green his next subject.
During his research, Anthony traverses through the nearly abandoned row houses and ends up meeting William Burke (Colman Domingo), a launderette owner and one of the area’s last residents, who confirms about the existence of Candyman. However, when Anthony foolishly utters the infamous titular chant five times in front of a mirror, he invokes the hook-handed legend, who follows him wherever he goes, forcing Anthony to slowly lose himself to the tale.
There’s something incredibly powerful that director Nia DaCosta achieves with this iteration that calling it a sequel or a spiritual successor doesn’t quite do it justice. Despite technically being a slasher, it is never interested in delving in jump scares or any cheap thrills that have previously enveloped the genre. Instead it aims to be a slow-burning, thought-provoking tale, which shines the spotlight on social and cultural issues that are being discussed today.
Similar to the 1994 film, she uses the racial dynamics of Cabrini-Green to set up a story about white-inflicted racial violence, the ways white folks encroach on Black spaces, and the harm that an overzealous police force and apathetic government can cause to neglected Black people. Here, director DaCosta playfully uses the cinematic canvas where the film is always in a constant state of nervous unease and dread.
The film’s clever use of mirrors and reflective surfaces wreak havoc with your mind as it plays into the psychology of Candyman’s lingering presence. Sure, though some of the film’s most macabre kills feel disconnected from the film’s central story, there’s no denying that these sequences are suitably spine-chilling and wondrously well-crafted.
From gory massacres in art galleries to a brutal bloodbaths in high school bathrooms, director DaCosta continually finds ways to make possibly stereotypical slayings subversive and visually stimulating by playing around with perspective and being calculated with the film’s camerawork.
Likewise, her decision to depict flashbacks about the morbid Candyman mythos through shadow puppetry is a captivating choice aesthetically that further adds to the film’s mystifying mood, a clear sign of a creator who knows which styles best complement the feel of her film and maximize its impact.
Unfortunately, the film stumbles at a few places, especially its rushed run time. Running for just 91 minutes, the film never gets enough time to fit in all its characters and give its copious social criticism justice. Something which is deeply felt in the third act, which includes an unnecessary twist and the film’s most blatantly political yet bloody set piece all in the span of ten minutes.
Thankfully, the film’s cast is largely commendable who rise above the occasionally overwrought narrative. Following in the footsteps of Tony Todd is by no means an easy feat, but Yahya Abdul-Mateen II brings in a captivating performance that is enriched by a slow unraveling towards madness. Teyonah Parris makes for a formidable lead and the emotional core of the film. Colman Domingo has a ridiculously written role but he sells it.
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is excellent in a supporting turn, while Vanessa Williams, reprising her role from the 1992 film, is superb in her a single-scene appearance as Anthony’s troubled mother. Tony Todd appears in a cameo. On the whole, ‘Candyman’ is a stunning horror that combines tragedy and scares very well.
Directed – Nia DaCosta
Rated – R
Run Time – 91 minutes