Candyman (2021) is a Sweet Supernatural Slasher That Cuts Deep into Societal Failures
First Wide Release: August 26, 2021 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Nia DaCosta
Writer: Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfield, Nia DaCosta, Clive Barker, Bernard Rose
Runtime: 91 Minutes
Starring: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is an up-and-coming artist living with his partner, Brianna (Teyonah Parris), when he stumbles upon the legend of ‘The Candyman’ while seeking inspiration for his latest show. This legend tells the tale of a man who was killed by police officers on suspicions he was giving kids candy with razorblades in it. Something clicks and suddenly Anthony is creating art that he feels connected and passionate about, something he has felt lacking in recent years. Unfortunately, after the first day of his show, two of his coworkers are found dead at his exhibit. Soon Anthony will find out that not only is the myth true, but there’s so much more to the story for him to discover.
Candyman is a chilling sequel to the 90s horror classic that is dripping in beautiful art direction, timely themes, and honey and blood.
Director Nia DaCosta delivers a strong vision of horror that slashes into social politics while maintaining top-notch atmosphere and tension. Dazzling shadow puppet shows are used as vehicles to move the story along and provide context on the events happening that feels both fresh and mysterious. It also features fantastic sound design. An immersive and hypnotic experience, Candyman makes the buzzing of the bees, or the pounding of rain droplets feel extra sinister. There are so many great shots with the mirrors casting reflections on characters and revealing more of the terrifying story to protagonists working on a story level as well as a thematic level. DaCosta isn’t afraid to get dark and refuses to pull any punches by prioritizing story, atmosphere, and a unique blend of high velocity, offscreen violence that feels just as horrific without basking in the gore.
The choice to not bring Tony Todd back as the Candyman but introduce another iteration is a clever and well-calculated risk that pays off in dividends. Abdul-Mateen II does a fantastic job of playing Anthony while simultaneously channeling his inner Candyman. He captures fear, loss, and menace perfectly; pivoting to whatever best suits his character. The makeup on Anthony is nothing short of exceptional. The slow rotting, tryptophobia triggering, honeycomb pattern creeping up his hand and arm throughout the film acts as a ticking time bomb for his transition from man to supernatural entity. It also makes for some particularly squeamish moments.
[/ END POTENTIAL SPOILERS]
I’d argue, however, that Teyonah Parris is the true star of the film, as she gives the most nuanced performance. Her character is always on the fringe of the story she tries so hard to exclude herself from and yet this is where she is, which is a hard pill to swallow for the audience. All of that aside, Brianna is easily the most real character I’ve seen in a while. Take all her nuanced development aside: her tragic backstory, her drive for success, her put-together demeanor, etc. Displaying rationality in decision making and still taking time to wink at the audience, she keeps herself at arm’s length from all potential dangers and even calls out the ridiculousness of even thinking about them.
A review of Candyman cannot be written without addressing the clear social implications of the film. DaCosta connects the idea of the Candyman to the perpetual cycle of violence inflicted upon communities of color, particularly low-income communities of color. Police brutality, gentrification, and more is on the cutting board here. It’s visible in the geography of the cinematography even just by strolling through Cabrini Green then and now. DaCosta sharply connects these ideas to a central figure by making Candyman the product of these fears rather than the embodiment. It feels even more disheartening when its revealed just how much trauma has shaped the core character’s lives.
In this film, Candyman is no one person but rather an idea. An idea, that when brought to life, kills those who continue that cycle of pain that creates other Candymen. Suffering like this shouldn’t be a trend to be disregarded the moment it bores you nor should it be easily explained away by a few sentences strung together with buzzwords by an out-of-touch elitist. It’s the actual commitment to ideals that will better lives. Nothing reverberates this more than the final line of the film.
My criticisms of the film are minimal but still worth mentioning. The pacing is horrendously off here. The first two acts build this incredible atmosphere only to fumble it in an incredibly rushed third act. Furthermore, the explanations offered in the finale leave much to be desired. The dialogue can hinder the experience at times as well. Many of the characters offer up jargon and circular language in conversations while speaking in a manner that feels distant from the events onscreen. While not unrealistic, it does get distracting at times from the story. I’ll also relent that because this film is set in the art sphere that it could be a satirical jab at the industry rather than one at the characters themselves.
An enthralling film backed by a stellar cast, a confident director, and a wide-open mythology to explore, Candyman is a worthy adaptation of an underseen gem of the 90s. It’s filled to the brim with great ideas and heart-racing scenes. Despite a rushed third act and some liberties taken with the rules of this universe, it turns out to be a damn good horror film that ties together its themes of cyclical violence and the curse of racism. Bound to attract new fans and veterans alike, Candyman is a sweet supernatural slasher that isn’t afraid to cut into the meaty themes it offers up.
Overall Score? 7.5/10