Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Candyman (2021)

Director: Nia DaCosta

Notable Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Kyle Kaminsky, Vanessa Williams, Brian King, Miriam Moss, Rebecca Spence 


The original Candyman was a seminal part of my childhood and my growth as a horror fan. It was a staple of our weekly video store rentals as a family and watching it as an 8-year-old certainly elevated my love of horror. It’s a film that makes it into my rotation on a yearly basis and one that I still uphold as one of the iconic horror films to push the genre forward, particularly in 1992. The first set of sequels, however, sincerely fail to recapture so much of the original’s brilliance, although each one certainly tries to embed their stories with their own take on social commentary. They just lose a substantial amount of the themes and storytelling as they move further into generic slasher territory. 


The latest sequel, Candyman, following the titling scheme of the 2018 Halloween sequel, ignores Candyman 2 and 3 (Farewell to the Flesh and Day of the Dead respectively) to go back to what made the original one such an iconic horror film. The film is intentionally engrossed with taking the Candyman lore, expanding it, and deepening its engagement with the racial and social commentaries from the original and pushing them into a new century. It’s also a film that doubles down on the horror elements, moving further from the inherent sadness and gothic romance of its predecessor, and kicking the supernatural slasher elements to the forefront. The combination proves impressively buzzworthy, carrying quite the sting, and providing an instant classic that brings the mythological ghostly legend to the modern age. 


Anthony (Abdul-Mateen II), struggles to find his voice as an upcoming artist and only finds his latest muse when his girlfriend’s brother tells him the horrific legend surrounding the Cabrini Green housing development in Chicago. His research into it leads him to the story of Candyman and he translates the urban legend into socio-political art. Unfortunately, by doing so, he reignites the legend and finds himself at the center of a new series of hook-centered deaths. 


Director and co-writer Nia DaCosta leaps into the deep end of the horror pool with relative ease in Candyman. Within a short time, she establishes a connection between the key characters and accomplishes strong world-building. The most intriguing aspect of the film is just how much material is stuffed into its relatively crisp runtime. DaCosta pulls off some miracles in crafting horror sequences that not only push forward the characters but expands the mythos as well.  For a film that essentially doubles the body count of the original, Candyman moves like lightning and still manages to boil over with numerous themes underneath its supernatural slasher structure without sacrificing anything in the process. 


It helps that she has a stellar cast to work with, including an impressive turn from both Abdul-Mateen II and Parris as the lead couple that serves as the anchor for the film and the audience’s angle back into the world. The performances all around are solid and much of the secondary cast, with note to Colman Domingo who regularly steals the film with his fascinating ability to make exposition riveting, hold their own against the leads. It’s through the cast that Candyman creates the realism in its themes and plot that bridges the gap from silly gimmick to horrifying allegory. 


At this point, it’s necessary to note, thanks to the mass of online discussion that Candyman has already inspired, that the film digs deep into multiple social and racial commentaries. Similar to the original, it toys with many of its touchpoints - from gentrification to the class system within the art business to police brutality to mental health awareness - and it does so with a stern understanding of when to brush by it in its sharp dialogue or strike down hard with its bloody hook. The film’s efficient runtime and focus on the mythology means that it's not necessarily digging into all the nuances of those subjects, but using them as a way to build on the Candyman story. It’s an incredibly smart decision that, like the former film it highly draws from, will make it both a timely film and one that will carry on as long as the titular antagonist’s legacy. 


Candyman works on a variety of levels though. It’s executed well enough to carry itself as a character-centered film and a socio-political commentary. Yet, the key to why Candyman is already a classic resides in how it balances that approach to its surface-level horror tale. The arrival of a new Candyman in Cabrini-Green is well developed and how the new story ties into the original one is clever, particularly in how DaCosta uses the shadow puppets to fill in the flashbacks to the past. This creates a solid parallel in the current-day horror sequences. It’s tempting to often compare the kills in Candyman with a slasher version of a J-horror, for example how the teen girl in a bathroom sequence plays out, but that’s the balance of slaying fodder with a vengeful ghost. The gore shown onscreen is brutal and it makes the events that happen off-screen even more terrifying. It’s paced incredibly well for the moment and DaCosta adds just enough artistic merit that it feels refreshing even as it hammers on the formula. 


All in all, Candyman is one hell of a way to kick the hive and stir up a fury. It’s not only a fantastic way to reboot and build in a way to expand the franchise, but the manner that it brings back elements of the original is smart. The horror aspects are effective and the manner that it slides through a flurry of thematic cornerstones only deepens the viewing experience. DaCosta proves herself as an impressive genre director with this film and if this series suddenly gets two or three more sequels we would be so very lucky. 


Written By Matt Reifschneider

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