Very much a legacyquel, the new cinematic incarnation of Candyman, the endlessly scary and influential horror classic of the 90’s, is given life from producer/co-writer Jordan Peele and director Nia DaCosta. Making good on fusing the old and new, this newest incarnation doesn’t rely on nostalgia to cheaply coast by. While the immortal presence of Tony Todd isn’t something that can be easily replaced, Candyman works because it doesn’t try to replace any set legacy, instead, building upon the original to form its own distinct voice.
Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a talented artist struggling to find his creative spark. When he and his girlfriend, Brianna (Teyonah Parris), move into the now torn down and gentrified former projects of Cabrini-Green, Anthony discovers the legend of Candyman. Using the urban legend as the inspiration for his new project, Anthony unleashes the power of the Candyman legend and finds that he might be unleashing something within himself.
Director Nia DaCosta taps into the original film’s cerebral approach to horror, using the themes of urban legends and societal imbalance to further examine the most urgent challenges into today’s race relations. While the first film used the setting of Cabrini-Green, a notorious housing project in Chicago, to explore the widening gap between the upper class and lower class; here, DaCosta, as well as producers/co-writers Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld expands on the racial disparity baked inside America’s societal woes. The origin of Candyman and his folklore is used as a means to explore the oppression that still comes with being black in America. Candyman is a tragic figure, whose death as a result of the deep-rooted racism of the time is still just as common today. His death still lingers throughout what is formerly Cabrini-Green and the trauma that is felt is equally reflective of our current society with the endless cycle of innocent black folks unjustly killed at the hands of the police and white supremacists.
Much of the trauma found within the characters is often portrayed literally with a number of potent symbolic imagery. DaCosta’s Candyman serves largely as a direct commentary on the original which happens to come with some occasionally didactic moments. Some of the metaphors are laid on thick, leaving very little room for interpretation, even if they are largely striking.
Candyman is also just as much about the relationship between an artist and their creative expression. DaCosta mines some rich satire on the pretentiousness of the art world with sharp insight and wit. Anthony’s Candyman-inspired project named “Say His Name” inspires more people to foolish say the name five times in front of a mirror and bodies begin to drop as a result. Not only does this add to Anthony’s doubt and anxiety, but the artist finds his mental state deteriorating rapidly, with a bee sting on his hand quickly infecting his body and consuming him. DaCosta deftly mixes the films inherit slasher formula with gruesome body horror and influences stemming as far back as the classic Universal monster films.
Candyman is surely thought-provoking, but never takes away from the visceral horror. The kills in Candyman are brutal, vicious and actually rather elegantly framed. Many sequences will simultaneously make you with gasp in fear, while taking your breath away by the beauty of the compositions. A particular sequence set inside a high school bathroom is a masterclass in how to evoke fear through slight-of-hand and by showing the audience just enough, holding back the right amount of visual information. The sound design, cinematography and art direction are all major factors in the effectiveness of Candyman.
All of the flashbacks presented throughout the film are told via shadow puppets which add a slightly surreal, idiosyncratic touch to the film. The many themes of artists and the stories that are handed down through each generation are given a wonderous, storybook-esque visual aid that leaves a lasting impression. The hypnotic score by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe wisely doesn’t attempt to recreate Phillip Glass’ timeless work, despite the original theme making a brief appearance here and there.
Candyman‘s biggest shortcomings fall in the rushed, albeit satisfying final act. As if it ran out of time to meet its 90 minute quota, the climax is in such a hurry to wrap things up, not allowing for any breathing room that is sorely needed for the audacious finale.
In just her second feature, Nia DaCosta proves herself to be a true force to be reckoned with behind the camera. Candyman terrifically explores and reclaims many of the ideas presented in the original film, while re-contextualizing others with its introduction of new, compelling themes. It avoids most chances to retread the original formula and stands on its own sure-footed legacy.