Bernard Rose's fantastic 1992 Candyman spawned two unsatisfying sequels, subtitled Farewell to the Flesh and Day of the Dead. The problem with those follow-ups was that they tried to tap into the mythos established in the original without having a reason to do so, other than to cash in on its popularity. Nia DeCosta's new Candyman - produced by Jordan Peele – avoids that pitfall. Despite some intermittently rocky storytelling, the film firmly puts the title character into our racially turbulent times, finding real substance in the process.
Aquaman's Yahya Abdul-Mateen II stars as Anthony McCoy, a Chicago artist seeking to make a name for himself. He wants to do a series addressing gentrification, but the gallery owner giving him a shot isn't wild about his ambitious approach, preferring something stereotypical instead. To appease him, Anthony goes in a more predictable direction, choosing to use the Cabrini-Green housing project as a source of inspiration. He sneaks into the place one day, poking around the now-abandoned buildings. That's when he meets William Burke (Colman Domingo), a local who tells him the sordid myth of a hook-handed killer named “Candyman” and how graduate student Helen Lyle unleashed him back in the '90s.
Anthony becomes fascinated by the myth, breathlessly telling his gallery curator girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) all about it. She's freaked out, especially when he playfully looks into a mirror and says “Candyman” five times. As anyone familiar with the series knows, that act summons the killer, making it a big no-no. Soon, murders begin happening around Anthony's museum installation, oddly raising his profile in the process.
Candyman has big ideas for its story. As Burke explains to Anthony, the slayer is borne from the collective unconscious of the community. He's a way of dealing with the bad/unfair/racist things the residents of Cabrini-Green have faced. There have been multiple Candymen over the years, each one springing forth from an act of senseless violence perpetrated against a Black man. Of course, we live in an era where the tragedies of George Floyd and Treyvon Martin are known by all, and that's what the film taps into. Rebooting this franchise could not be a more timely idea.
While it definitely grounds the horror in contemporary relevance, Candyman occasionally falters in how it unfolds the story. To a degree, it has to serve two masters, addressing the subject of white art snobs trying to shape Anthony's work in a way that makes them comfortable, while also illustrating how his story connects to the original movie. A not-unsubstantial amount of time is spent recapping the events of the 1992 film for those who haven't seen it, although the use of elaborate shadow puppets to do so is creative. Balancing these elements is possible, it just requires time. Candyman runs 85 minutes, minus end credits, causing the plot to feel choppy in spots.
Similarly, despite being very well-portrayed by Colman Domingo, the William Burke character makes a leap late in the film that seems a little abrupt. More time could have been spent prepping the audience for that.
In every other manner, though, Candyman delivers big-time. This is a horror movie with racial issues on its mind, and DaCosta – who co-wrote the screenplay with Peele and Win Rosenfeld – doesn't shy away from politics. The title character represents the anger of the Black community, who see white cops killing innocent people of color, or the city bureaucracy leaving their neighborhoods to die, then selling the pieces off to rich, mostly white developers. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is excellent as Anthony, showing how the reign of terror Candyman goes on opens his eyes fully to the problem.
Scary scenes are abundant in the picture. The gory “kills” are achieved in inventive ways that often catch viewers off-guard. One series of slayings is shown through the mirror of a compact that a young woman has dropped on a bathroom floor. Another, about halfway through, is photographed in a way I've never seen before. I fully expect other filmmakers to start ripping it off immediately. (The moment is caught from outside an apartment building, but I won't say more than that.) DaCosta makes great use of locations, turning Cabrini-Green into a space that truly feels haunted by the ghosts of its past. Terror is achieved through one other method, involving Anthony, that is best left undiscussed here, except to say that it leads to a powerhouse, shiver-inducing finale.
Even with a couple minor flaws, Candyman works as both a sociopolitical allegory and a fright show. The ending paves the way for future installments. For once, that choice seems more promising than cynical. As long as racial injustice exists, the Candyman has a reason to, as well.
out of four
Candyman is rated R for bloody horror violence, and language, including some sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.