The Return of ‘Candyman’ Is Sweet… and Sour (Movie Review)

Ever since the trailer for Candyman dropped last year with the slowed-down version of Destiny’s Child’s 90s hit “Say My Name” used to underscore his return, I’ve been eager to see this new take. Jordan Peele was producing (and co-wrote the script!,) and hot new director Nia DaCosta (Little Woods) had just been announced to be helming Marvel’s The Marvels. If Kevin Feige and Peele had faith in this new talent, how could I not be excited to return to my hometown of Chicago’s Cabrini Green for an update to the iconic 90s slasher flick? Alas, COVID happened, so Universal had to shelve the pic until 2021. It was definitely a smart move on the studio’s part to wait to release the film in theaters. Seeing dumb teens and adults with questionable judgment say his name fives times in the mirror is better with an audience. But, is the essence of his hookedness return worthy of buzz like his loyal bees? You have gotta say his name to find out…

When struggling artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) comes across the legend of the Candyman, whose racially charged murder turned him into a killer boogeyman, he sees an opportunity. He’s aware of how “played out” gentrification and systemic racism might be to critics, but there’s something genuinely unnerving about a hooked man who will kill you quick if you dare speak his name five times in a mirror. His girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) isn’t convinced that a new collection based on the folklore surrounding the grisly murders will be the hot gallery ticket they need, but she supports him nonetheless. However, when people start saying “Candyman” fives times in a mirror, the body count rises in tandem with Anthony’s importance in the Chicago art world. Are the murders of (notably) white patrons worth the level of fame he’s acquired? And can Anthony contain the sudden urges he’s having? Maybe his new friend William (the always dependable Colman Domingo) can help.

Back in 1992, Bernard Rose’s social commentary by way of horror was in a class all its own. The structure might have stuck closely to the slashers of the 80s, but Tony Todd brought a unique kind of menace through his character’s injustice (Phillips Glass’ score was also utterly brilliant). Undoubtedly, there were other killers who were murdered and came back to seek revenge at the multiplex. The original Nightmare on Elm Street series, for example, shares a similarity in Freddy Kreuger, who also functions as a supernatural terror. Candyman was different. In this version, he was wrongly murdered by cops, but in the black community, especially the projects of Cabrini Green, a black man killed by the police was and still is sadly an all too common occurrence.

Following her previous film, as a Grand Guignol kind of debut, Nia DaCosta couldn’t have asked for a better genre than horror to showcase her talent in a theater setting. From the moment the Universal logo appears onscreen, backward, along with the rest of the production logos, there’s a specific kind of intent on display. We then see numerous Windy City skyscrapers upside down. All of this keys into the POV of Candyman, the boogeyman who lives in the mirror. We’re treated to a gruesome origin told with shadow puppets. All of this works. DaCosta then contrasts the urban legend with Anthony’s need to be seen and acknowledged as an artist. This is fittingly what any filmmaker wants us to do, really.

I don’t want to spoil the disturbing kills (this film is rated R) or the clever ways DeCosta stages many non-violent scenes. However, while Candyman, the brand name, will put people in the seats, it’s this filmmaker’s gift for visual storytelling that kept me enthralled throughout the movie’s tight 90 minutes. One of the best thrills as a movie fan is seeing someone with such talents.

Unfortunately, quite a bit of Candyman is undone by questionable performances and an overstuffed, scatter-brained script. There is a lot that co-writers Peele, DeCosta, and Win Rosenfeld have to say about race in 2021, appropriation, greed, and good old-fashioned fear born from ignorance. Too often, though, the story over explains when it should trust the audience. There’s even a scene where this was made clear as Anthony does just that to a critic who has come to see his work on opening night. The irony was not lost on this viewer. As a result, the big climax crumbles under the weight of too many well-intentioned observations on the never-ending cycle of wrongs that happens by the police or others too eager to assume they know best.

To be fair, none of this takes away from the thrills and sheer terror present throughout. Each subsequent invoking of Candyman tops itself (My favorite involves a super wide shot from outside a high-rise apartment). I also liked Abdul-Mateen enough that I’d be down for a sequel. There is plenty here to recommend this latest reimagining of a classic franchise brought back to life. I just wish the ideas presented made as much sense to me as DeCosta’s talent as a filmmaker on the rise.


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