Movie Review: ‘Candyman’

Review by James Lindorf

It has been 29 years since audiences first said his name. There have been a few lackluster sequels and a year-long pandemic delay in the nearly three decades since, but “Candyman” has finally come back to Chicago and Cabrini-Green. This time he is in the hands of director Nia DaCosta (Little Woods), who co-wrote this installment along with Win Rosenfeld (The Twilight Zone), and modern horror legend Jordan Peele. “Candyman” will be widely available in theaters beginning August 27th. “

In an idea taken from “Freddy vs Jason” after the events with Helen Lyle the night of the bonfire, the people of Cabrini-Green decided to stop invoking the name of Candyman, taking away his power. When a candlelight horror story reinvigorates the imagination of struggling artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II; Aquaman), it puts everyone in danger. His investigation will reignite the urban legend and lead him on a descent into madness. Anthony lives with his girlfriend, gallery director Brianna (Teyonah Parris; If Beale Street Could Talk), in a luxury apartment built on the former site of Cabrini. The one-time housing project has become gentrified beyond recognition and inhabited by upwardly mobile millennials. After hearing the legend of Helen and Candyman from Brianna’s brother, it quickly becomes an obsession that sends Anthony to the remaining ruins of the housing project. Through a chance encounter with William, a Cabrini-Green old-timer (Colman Domingo; Euphoria), Anthony learns the truth about Candyman’s tragic history and that destiny can only be delayed so long.

In DaCosta’s 21st century interpretation of the original “Candyman,” themes and subtext become in your face text. There is palpable anger embedded in its scares, and character motivations as black suffering at the hands of white people becomes black rage dished out by Candyman. At times the film suffers under the weight of its heavy material and frequent references but DaCosta nails far more landings than she misses. One of the most exciting aspects of this sequel is how she expanded the franchise’s mythology by taking Candyman beyond the story of Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd). This new wrinkle in the legend could see countless installments over the next several years, assuming this one performs well at the box office.

“Candyman” features a great supporting cast that brings humor and sobriety to the film as Anthony spirals deeper into his obsession. Teyonah Parris has been consistently good throughout her career, and that continues here as the loving and occasionally stern Brianna. Colman Domingo as William is inconsistent. He starts off strong, fighting for the best performance in the movie, but once we reach the climax, his performance can be best described as cartoonish. His character takes a drastic left turn that comes out of nowhere, and he loses control of his performance. The center of the film is Yahya as Anthony, and he gives a tremendous emotional and physical performance. Yahya is an imposing figure at 6’3, and who knows how many pounds of muscle but can make you believe he is meek and uncoordinated just with his body language. As his emotional state ranges from joyful to obsessed, terrified, angry, and essentially unconscious, his performance fluctuates from great to slightly less believable. During the blackout scenes, he overthinks how he should be acting instead of just doing it.

While there are a few less than impressive CGI shots, most of the 91-minute runtime is just DaCosta and cinematographer John Guleserian (About time) showing off. They frequently use the camera to create unease and tension in the audience. One of their favorite images is to film from the ground up at the skyline shrouded in fog. It is disorienting as you try and figure out which way is up and how deep the fog is, or how far you have to fall from this height. Those shots, plus all the reflection tricks as Candyman follows his prey around, means they are always doing something interesting with the camera. Despite the fancy camera tricks and a generous amount of blood, this is by far the least terrifying entry in the series. Tony Todd’s Candyman was a menacing figure that could haunt your dreams. This time around, Candyman is a little grosser looking, but he sticks to the shadows and is never shown making a kill on screen. It is an odd choice that slightly unbalanced the film, overly emphasizing the injustice elements.

It is uncertain how much credit needs to go to Jordan Peele, who was a writer and producer on the film. It has all of his trademark psychological terror and social awareness we have come to appreciate since he burst onto the horror scene with “Get Out.” The fact that DaCosta landed a major Marvel movie well before the release of this film is a good sign that the people in the know, know exactly what she brought to the project. Having an unwavering social justice element to your project invites controversy and boycotts by people who will probably buy tickets to burn them on Twitter. Luckily for the fans of the film, controversy breeds attention, and interest brings money that will keep this series going for years to come. While an off-note here and there prevents it from becoming a pure symphony of horror and social commentary, “Candyman” is a sweet treat for the fans and a solid 4 out of 5.

Rating: R (Language|Bloody Horror Violence|Some Sexual References)
Genre: Horror, Mystery & Thriller
Original Language: English
Director: Nia DaCosta
Producer: Ian Cooper, Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld
Writer: Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld, Nia DaCosta
Release Date: August 27th, 2021
Runtime: 1h 31m
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Production Co: Monkeypaw Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bron Studios, Universal Pictures, Creative Wealth Media Finance

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