The horror icon is as timely as it was three decades ago. Sadly.
Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | August 31, 2021
Maybe the biggest surprise about Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is how much it respects the 1992 original. Though hardly a box office smash, the old Tony Todd-Virginia Madsen starrer got decent reviews and reverberated through the years for its social edge. Unlike Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers, Candyman didn’t start out as a monster — he was turned into one by others. That difference is just the first of several interesting themes in both movies.
The setting is the Cabrini-Green project, the same area that three decades ago witnessed the events of the first film. DaCosta and writer/producer Jordan Peele (Get Out) build on the first Candyman by focusing on how violence against the African American community echoes through time. Injustice creates boogiemen, so it’s no shock Candyman starts with a group of policemen who kill the black suspect they’re trying to arrest.
Cut to several years later. The social housing area has been gentrified. Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Aquaman), a visual artist struggling for inspiration, learns about the Candyman legend and decides to make the ghostly killer his next project. Let’s just say he gets more than he bargained for, because there’s no shortage of people willing to repeat the vicious spirit’s name five times in front of a mirror.
The movie is heavy on allegories, chief among them how black pain echoes through generations to become anger. The fact the movie suggests the possibility of multiple versions of the same legend fits the narrative. It’s also critical of gentrification, and hard on the art scene for commodifying black suffering.
There’s enough material here for a couple of movies, though Candyman clocks 90 minutes sharp which is nice after so many bloated summer tentpoles.
Candyman doesn’t forget it’s a genre picture (it pushes the gore envelope enough to make you squeamish), but there’s something perfunctory about the horror sequences. Ironically, the most disturbing scenes use shadow puppets to contextualize the Cabrini-Green dwellers’ plight. Very nasty, and not something you’d like to see in live action.