Candyman mixes horror and social commentary
Director Nia DaCosta collaborates with Jordan Peele for a spiritual same-titled sequel to the nineties horror classic Candyman for her sophomore effort. For as long as residents can remember, the housing projects of Chicago's Cabrini-Green neighborhood were terrorized by a word-of-mouth ghost story about a supernatural killer with a hook for a hand, quickly summoned by those daring to repeat his name five times into a mirror.
In the year 2019, ten years have passed since the last of the Cabrini towers came down. Visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his partner, gallery director Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), move into a luxury loft condominium in Cabrini, now gentrified beyond recognition and inhabited by upwardly mobile millennials. With Anthony's painting career on the brink of stalling, a chance encounter with a Cabrini-Green old-timer William (Colman Domingo) exposes Anthony to the tragically horrific nature of the true story behind Candyman.
Anxious to maintain his status in the Chicago art world, Anthony begins to explore these macabre details in his studio. He hopes it will serve as fresh grist for his paintings, and unknowingly opened the door to a complex past that unravels his sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence that puts him on a collision course with destiny.
In 1992, director Bernard Rose had a hit film on his hands when he adapted Clive Barker's short story "The Forbidden" into Candyman. The original short story revolved around the themes of the British class system in contemporary Liverpool. Rose chose to refit the story to Cabrini-Green's public housing development in Chicago and instead focused on the themes of race and social class in the inner-city United States.
Almost thirty years later, Candyman still holds up primarily due to the chilling performance of Tony Todd as the titular character. However, despite Todd's best efforts, the two sequels, 1995's Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and 1999's Candyman: Day of the Dead have a bad reputation. Therefore, producer Jordan Peele, who wrote on the film's screenplay, with director Nia DaCosta and his writing partner Win Rosenfeld, have a massive undertaking on their hands to bring Candyman into the 21st century.
The film opens up promising enough in the 1970's Cabrini Green, where a young boy encounters a possible version of Candyman. We then flash forward to 2019 and meet aspiring artist Anthony, as he and his live-in girlfriend Brianna are hosting a housewarming for Brianna's brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) and his partner. Troy decides to have some fun with a ghost story and tells everyone about the legend of Helen Lyle (the protagonist of the original film). This event causes a domino effect for Anthony as he investigates more about the lore; his sense of normalcy begins to unravel
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris both do great work in their roles and show why they are in the next group of leading black talent. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II brings the right amount of paranoia to the role of Anthony, while Teyonah Parris displays elegant grace in her role. Colman Domingo is just cool to watch on screen, so anything he does, I am down to watch.
Outside of the previously mentioned trio, no one else in Candyman has much to do. Peele and company keep the film's running time short, and there is a ton of messaging in the movie. Thus Candyman that may require multiple views to unpack fully. Part of the issue with Candyman is that Nia DaCosta does not have enough time to explore all of them thoroughly.
The mythos of Candyman was also interesting. Particularly how it ties into the Black experience throughout history always needed a black director, and DaCosta is perfect for the job. Moreover, kudos to DaCosta for the creepy shadow puppet sequences, which were a highlight of the film.
I will point out the Candyman is not a straightforward horror film, but there are some impressive kills and some downright creepy body horror moments. When the credits rolled on the film, I had the mindset of liking but not loving it, as there is a lot to unpack in the film.
Nevertheless, Nia DaCosta has made an impressive second film that should impress some horror fans and bring thought-provoking discussions and think pieces for months to come.
Final Grade: B-