This hook-handed bogeyman first appeared in Clive Barker’s Books of Blood anthologies, just like Rawhead Rex and paranormal detective Harry D’Amour from Lord of Illusions, but he has proved far more enduring. His fans should therefore be happy to hear his latest film does not reboot jack. Instead, it builds on the original cult classic (but we can’t speak to the two sequels). Ill-advisedly, people keep saying his name in Nia DaCosta’s Candyman, which opens widely tomorrow.
In Bernard Rose’s 1992 Candyman, Helen Lyle was a grad student researching the Candyman urban legends in Chicago’s Cabrini Green housing projects. As part of her research, she and a friend successfully invoked the Candyman by saying his name five times while looking in a mirror. That all really happened in the world of DaCosta’s film, including the bad end Lyle came to.
That is sort of the story Brianna Cartwright’s brother tells at a dinner party to get a rise out of anyone, but filtered through a media lens not privy to the full supernatural truth. However, it is sufficiently compelling to inspire her artist-boyfriend Anthony McCoy to investigate the Candyman urban legend and the remnants of the now “gentrified” Cabrini Green neighborhood, for a series of paintings. Much like Lyle, he becomes obsessed with the lore, which dates back to the original Candyman, Daniel Robitaille, who was lynched in the 1890s. Of course, his new work openly invites viewers to “say his name,” leading to inevitably gory consequences.
You won’t hear any nauseating talk about “toxic fandom” in conjunction with DaCosta’s Candyman¸ because unlike other recent reboot/remakes, she and co-writer-co-producer Jordan Peele understood why the elements and characters of the original worked so well the first time around, so they doubled (or tripled) down on them. The shadow puppetry animation that dramatizes Candyman’s early origins is especially effective at evoking a sense of folk horror. It hard to explain why, but fans of the original star, Tony Todd, should be just fine with this film too.
Be that as it may, Michael Hargrove is all kinds of spooky playing Sherman Fields, the current incarnation of Candyman. According to the film’s backstory, Fields was murdered by overzealous Chicago cops, who unjustly suspected him of lacing candy with razor blades. (However, at least one scene ambiguously clouds that assumption of innocence.) Yet, Colman Domingo (from Passing Strange) outshines everyone as William Burke, a Cabrini Green old-timer who tutors McCoy in Candyman lore.
Despite a plan to avoid “black trauma,” Yahya Abdul-Mateen II does an excellent job freaking out and enduring some pretty gross body horror. (If you’re looking a film with scab-picking, this is your huckleberry.) Unfortunately for Teyonah Parris, she is stuck playing the responsible and boring girlfriend, who refuses to believe any of McCoy’s crazy talk until it is way too late. However, it is nice to see Vanessa Estelle Williams return from the 1992 film, in a pivotal late scene.
Candyman 2021 never really gets heavy-handed until the climactic sequence, which isn’t too bad by Hollywood standards. Frankly, DaCosta and Peele score a number of points on white liberal hipsters, which keeps things interesting. However, the obsession with gentrification becomes an off-key motif. The hard truth is you simply cannot drop a bell jar on a neighborhood to keep it frozen in time. They have to be dynamic, allowing them to grow and evolve, or they die.
Regardless, genre fans should be amused by the way the film sometimes humorously subverts horror movie cliches. DaCosta and cinematographer John Guleserian also devise inventive ways to shoot their killing scenes. As a result, Candyman 2021 definitely exceeds expectations. Recommended for fans of the Candyman franchise and the Peele brand, Candyman 2021 opens across the country tomorrow (8/27).