Directed By Nia DaCosta
Starring – Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Paris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett
The Plot – In present day, a decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, Anthony (Abdul-Mateen) and his partner (Paris) move into a loft in the now gentrified Cabrini. A chance encounter with an old-timer exposes Anthony to the true story behind Candyman. Anxious to use these macabre details in his studio as fresh grist for paintings, he unknowingly opens a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence.
Rated R for bloody horror violence, and adult language including some sexual references
– Social commentary. Part of what made the original “Candyman” an instant classic, as well as one that stood as an unfortunate reflection of our divided society was the abundance of eye-opening material from the perspective of a racially segregated low-income housing unit in and around the infamous Cabrini Green of Southside Chicago. That same setting is brought back here, but this time in a way that shows the evolution of such an ideal, yet one whose segregation still persists in a now white-gentrified redevelopment of the property. In addition to this, the new incarnation of Candyman brings with a deconstruction on the persistent plague of police brutality on those of poor black males, as well as an outsiders perspective on said victims, which often illustrates disconnection from the stereotyping of those who turn a blind eye to far too much. This allows “Candyman” to once again be so much more than a compelling turn into fictional cinema, and instead produces with it an urgency and awareness that works seamlessly with the beats of its terrifying titular character, instead of a film with a heavy handed agenda.
– Seductive canvas. In only her second feature length film, and one that has already earned her top billing as director on Marvel’s “The Marvels” in 2022, DaCosta provides an alluring stylistic impulse to channeling the unnerving abundance of a nightmare world brought to life in inner-city claustrophobia. Attaining status as an exceptional visionary, Nia affords enough long-lingering persistence in these slow pans, in and out, of the transitional sequences they accommodate. This is not only a faithful homage to one of my favorite elements of 70’s and 80’s slasher cinema, but also one that plays into the various unfocused Easter Eggs resonating in the many backdrops, which often rewards audiences for remaining engaged. In addition to this and the many movements from various perspectives in and around the protagonist, it’s the way DaCosta uses shapes and shadows not only in the lavish interior of upper class living, but also in the mirrored images itself, which attains an air of originality to a concept in franchise that is nearly thirty years old from its original incarnation.
– Special effects. I’m pleased in the naturalistic approach to the movie’s paranormal elements, which often don’t get overtly-influenced in the schemes and ideas of computer-generation just because it can. There’s the obvious renderings in the legions of bees surrounding the iconic Candyman, but the syrupy substance of hand-manufactured blood designs, as well as some truly gruesome elements of bodily horror are conveyed with make-up and prosthetic designs that are truly out of this world. This is the single most believable aspect of the movie for me because the production values realism in ways that don’t always feed into convenience, instead unraveling in the evolving transformation of one particular character who quite literally embodies the dark and condemning history of Cabrini Green’s residents in materializing form.
– Sequel surprise. After nearly two years of trailers while waiting for this movie, I was enthrallingly surprised to find out only minutes into its presentation that it’s actually a sequel in the disguise of being a rehashing of the popular property. This is great because unlike contemporary horror sequels of today, it very much values its past, and uses it in a way to further enhance the meaning and history of its paranormal character, providing a lineage that is as long and devious as the historical accuracies provided in Cabrini Green. I won’t spoil much beyond that, but I will say that I loved how this film tied into the climactic events of the previous film, especially outlining it in a way that makes for a satisfying twist that could’ve easily been detected in less capable hands. On top of this, the very last sequence of the movie offers a satisfying pay-off not only to this narrative, but also in the closure of the franchise itself, which with more passing time in developmental hell could’ve let this riveting opportunity pass by without the final gut-punch that it provides before the credits.
– Art direction. Even aside from the luminating visuals that DaCosta and cinematographer John Guleserian provide in presentation, the creativity of puppeteering a series of overhead flashbacks are ones that are easily my favorite of the many intoxications of personality that this film supplants. What’s most appealing to these instances pertaining to past events are the detail to which they afford familiar likenesses in characters, despite the fact that essentially all we’re seeing are shadowy outlines. Hairstyles, wardrobes, and even environmental elements help to distinguish one shadowy figure from the next, and overall provide a bedtime story enveloping of sorts for the idea inside of the sequences that pay a stylistic series of recollections to the legend of one terrifying presence that even fifty years later they still can’t shake from their memories.
– Carnage candy. Horror hounds of the world, fear not, this movie has everything needed for you to relish in the capabilities of the Candyman. Not only are the kills themselves brutal and devastating in the magnitude and sudden sting of their nature, but they’re also restrained enough to not go over the top with it in a way that will overtly exploit the allowance of its violence. Beyond this, the cinematography once more plays a devilishly decadent and satisfying complexity to the sequences, harvesting a series of various angles and distancing in the depiction that allow the audience the interpretation of the various art pieces that Anthony himself supplants to the studio seen occasionally throughout the film. One such example is of a woman being overtaken in her apartment, and we see while panning out of the building, which only adds to the isolation factor of the unseen presence currently overtaking her. Because of such, we’re treated to a variety of beautifully depicted and often times hypnotically portrayed, proving that violence can serve a greater purpose in spectacle than one of the momentary thrills that are a constant in these movies.
– Inferiorities. Two elements of production immediately stood out in my interpretation to this film, which leaves it falling just short of the magnitude of its predecessor. The first is the ominously thick atmosphere throughout the previous film, which transferred seamlessly the constant paranoia and persistence of a supernatural presence plaguing their existence. For this movie, I never truly felt that dread or disturbance with inevitability with the kind of thickness needed to flesh out the tragedy of the situation, whether in its use of sporadic humor or ridiculousness in characters, which made it all the more difficult to invest and feel empathy for the plights of their situations. Another disappointment is in the lack of emphasis or influence behind the musical score, which keeps it from even being in the shadows of the legendary compositions helmed by the vastly underrated Phillip Glass. The music here is fine enough from composer Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, but not influential enough in its eclectic traits to stand out in a way that enhances the operatic magnitude of the imagery. Glass’ use of organs and piano carved out an originality for the time that felt unlike anything else in slasher cinema, but Lowe’s feels like it was literally lifted from every Jordan Peele movie ever created, cementing the scenes with a redundancy that never allows it the freedom of expression to maximize its diversity.
– Illogical motivations. Stupid characters are an expectation for any horror movie, but the movements and decisions of those in this movie completely alienate the previously-established characterization of their character outlines, and make for a series of leaps that only serve to get us to the next set piece. The obvious is the set-up of the Candyman curse itself, with people actually choosing to say his name into a mirror five times to resurrect him. This is fine enough for Anthony’s perspective, in learning about the legend in order of capturing the essence for an art piece, but for everyone that follows him brings no shortage of stupid to the spectrum, especially considering these characters know of something bad that happened only minutes before they repeat the curse. Speaking of repetition, it weighs down heavily on the otherwise crisp pacing of the movie, overall, and condenses its originality to the series of tropes it periodically spoofs, but can’t fully escape from on its own merits.
– Strange editing. At a few times littered throughout the movie, but particularly that of the third act, there’s some strangely abrupt cuts and sequencing choices that made my investment to the narrative more difficult to follow than I would’ve preferred. Some involve moments of third-tier characters reappearing an hour after we last saw them, only to add to the body count. Others pertain to sloppy structuring during character twists that completely come out of nowhere, and make me feel like a scene or scenes are missing from the finished product that only further add to the confusion previously mentioned in uneven character motivations. And finally, some death sequences are given ample time to breathe with a few scenes of exposition periodically throughout, but others go back-to-back on their spending of the momentum, which often undercuts the dramatic tension and build of the secondary one between them, simultaneously fleshing out a visible predictability that can’t be shook, for the lack of exposition paid to the character in focus.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-