Situations will produce very organic and extreme reactions to their surroundings…
This isn’t the Candyman you’d be expecting because while it pays homage and reference to the original, this is a much slicker and much more psychological affair that offers up real commentary on myths and urban legends but also on how perpetual abuse on a community can manifest itself into a monster all on its own.
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) and his girlfriend, gallery director Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), 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) 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 terrifyingly viral wave of violence that puts him on a collision course with destiny.
Transitioning from revenge laden slasher to social statement, this version of Candyman; while very much a spiritual sequel from the original allows it to evolve in a very fresh way that gets us thinking rather than reacting to what we see on screen.
Writer/Director Nia DaCosta fits here with the genre like a duck would to water, except rather than just swimming we see the visual equivalent of a strut that would make John Travolta at his peak proud. With co-writer and executive producer Jordan Peele in tow the results here are slick, sexy and terribly creepy all from minute one.
This film is bathed in the shadows, shiny glass and style which makes for a new kind of visual gothic esthetic that you can’t look away from. The visual design in this film is simply off the charts as it crafts us a very cold but effectively uncomfortable environment that isn’t necessarily trying to focus on the blood and the gore, but making our minds run wild with the visuals that we AREN’T being shown. DaCosta and cinematographer John Guleserian along with Production Designer Cara Bower are allowing the ideas behind body horror and the themes of social injustices in a community turn into something that is reminiscent of the works of David Cronenberg and Brian DePalma. If you come to Candyman looking for a Saw movie; you’re in the wrong place.
This is an exceptionally smart film and a clear cut example of how to expand the legacy of something that came before you.
Yes; it wants you to have seen and understand the original film but Candyman is less about the urban myth of a random demon or psychotic murderer but rather about the events that bore the birth of the myth which manifested itself into existence in the form OF the Candyman. This is really where its genius lies and while it has a moment where it gets a little heavy handed about the issues of police brutality and violence in urban centres it manages to push beyond it because it’s not suffering from any kind of “white” gaze in telling its story. It’s an externalized exaggeration of what has happened to these ghettos that have displaced and mistreated the people leaving inside it for so very long, until the city up and disposes them in the name of gentrification and real estate values. This truly feels like something that we’re inside of and looking out from rather than the other way around.
The ensemble cast embraces this material with ease as star Yahya Abdul-Mateen carries the material with ease. He thinks he’s just an artist trying to tell stories from a collective past not quite realizing the connection he truly has to these stories. He’s both hero and victim in this story, which is ultimately the real point behind it all.
Teyonah Parris is very solid opposite him as his art dealer and girlfriend but the genuine star is the shining light that is Colman Domingo who leads Yahya’s character down a very dark path and basically serves as the defacto narrator for the story. Everyone here knows what story they are telling, they know when to play it serious, they know when to have a laugh and most importantly they do an excellent job of helping to move a narrative that can be a little complex but is ultimately very rewarding.
Ultimately, everyone involved in Candyman has made something that is visually sexy, gets our imaginations running wild and rather than talk down to us with cheap jump scares and gore, it actually appreciates our collective intelligence and makes us truly contemplate the idea that something malevolent could manifest itself out of centuries of cultural abuse and genocide. Candyman scares us before we have to even say his name…which really should be the purpose of any kind of legend, so we ensure that it never comes true.