Director: Nia DaCosta
Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo
Runtime: 1 hr 31 mins
Rating: M18 (Violence and Gore)
Released By: UIP
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/CandymanMovie/
Opening Day: 23 September 2021
Synopsis: This October, Oscar winner Jordan Peele unleashes a fresh take on the blood-chilling urban legend that your friend's older sibling probably told you about at a sleepover: Candyman. Rising filmmaker Nia DaCosta (Little Woods) directs this contemporary incarnation of the cult classic.
For as long as residents can remember, the housing projects of Chicago's Cabrini-Green neighborhood were terrorized by a word-of-mouth ghost story about a supernatural killer with a hook for a hand, easily summoned by those daring to repeat his name five times into a mirror. In present day, a decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II; HBO's Watchmen, Us) and his partner, gallery director Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris; If Beale Street Could Talk, The Photograph), move into a luxury loft condo in Cabrini, now gentrified beyond recognition and inhabited by upwardly mobile millennials. With Anthony's painting career on the brink of stalling, a chance encounter with a Cabrini-Green old-timer (Colman Domingo; HBO's Euphoria, Assassination Nation) exposes Anthony to the tragically horrific nature of the true story behind Candyman. Anxious to maintain his status in the Chicago art world, Anthony begins to explore these macabre details in his studio as fresh grist for paintings, unknowingly opening a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence that puts him on a collision course with destiny.
Like ‘Halloween’, ‘Candyman’ is both a sequel and a reboot at the same time.
As sequel, it references the elements of its predecessor, including the tragic events surrounding graduate student Helen Lyle (played by Virginia Madsen), who had gone on a killing spree before attempting to sacrifice a baby in bonfire, and the legend of Candyman (reprised here by Tony Todd), a Black artist in the late 1800s who was lynched to death by a White mob after falling in love and impregnating one of the female subjects of his paintings.
As reboot, it ignores the two forgettable sequels which came after the classic original, also starring Todd as the titular Candyman. But perhaps more significantly, while the cult classic centred around a white female protagonist (i.e. Helen Lyle), this latest is told from the lens of the Black community, who as victim of racism over the ages, spawned the original vengeful spirit of the Candyman and continues to perpetuate that same spirit of anger and injustice even till today.
Indeed, more than the original, director and co-writer Nia DaCosta’s film is pointedly political. It is no coincidence that the characters live in a gentrifying Chicago neighbourhood, or that the neighbourhood used to include the infamous towers of the Cabrini-Green public housing project. It is also no coincidence how the figure at the heart of the movie, an up-and-coming painter called Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), eventually transforms into the legendary figure of Candyman that he develops an obsession with.
It is not hard to see why she and fellow co-writer and producer Jordan Peele sparked to the material – those which recall the 1992 original will know that the reason why the residents of Cabrini-Green were so fearful of Candyman was that it tapped into their real-life fears of law enforcement. Like Peele’s ‘Us’, the real horror here is allegorical, covering such topics as Black identity, class mobility and police brutality. It is sobering all right, and like we said, deliberate in its candidness of using the genre to explore race as well as playing around with our expectations of who is the hero and villain.
That’s not to say though that it forgets being a slasher movie at the end of the day. The first time the Candyman claims a victim is at an art gallery run by Anthony’s girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris), in front of a mirrored exhibit called ‘Say His Name’ which Anthony had conceived based on the legend, and the bloodletting will dispel any doubts of its commitment to gore. By the time the movie gets to its finale, DaCosta fully and unapologetically unleashes the violence, not least by fulfilling Anthony’s transformation into Candyman in a bodily manner.
At the front and centre of this journey is Abdul-Mateen, who anchors the titular role with aplomb. It comes as no coincidence that the actor’s booming voice and physical presence bears resemblance to Todd, but Abdul-Mateen turns Anthony’s mental unravelling into a riveting portrait of social disillusionment. DaCosta has also assembled a fine supporting cast, including a stylish Nathan Stewart-Jarett as Brianna’s brother Troy, who gets to set the context with a chilling retelling of what happened to Helen Lyle, and Colman Domingo as a laundromat operator whose past is intimately and intricately linked to Cabrini-Green.
More so than the typical horror flick, ‘Candyman’ uses the genre to deliver sharp social critique. Her Candyman is the very expression of rage against racism, whose identity is also being shaped over the ages as cathartic fiction by the collective unconscious. Certainly, some of that topical relevance would be lost on us, but you’ll appreciate how DaCosta has reinvented the 1992 cult classic effectively. Truth be told, we were pleasantly surprised by how much more this ‘Candyman’ went beyond saying the name five times in front of a mirror, and if the commentary gets a little too shrill at times, we would hardly begrudge it for being a lot smarter than your average sequel cum reboot.
(Smarter than your average sequel cum reboot, 'Candyman' digs deep into topical subjects like Black identity, class mobility and police brutality to deliver sharp sociopolitical critique)
Review by Gabriel Chong