Director Nia DaCosta solidifies the social rage attempted by the original, and the result is one scary movie.
The original Candyman is a disturbingly tense slasher populated with hauntingly grotesque imagery that never entirely results in a satisfying work. Loosely based on Clive Barker's short story "The Forbidden," writer/director Bernard Rose's Candyman transplants the British narrative exploring class in Liverpool to the Cabrini-Green housing projects of North Side Chicago. It struggles to discuss American white supremacy and ultimately reinforces racist ideas while clumsily inserting a white savior heroine. You can applaud the attempt, but the film rings as a misfire.
In 1992, Candyman felt like it was on the edge of saying something honest and angry but eventually just succeeded in supplying an astonishingly empathetic supernatural entity. Tony Todd's mirror killer belongs up there with Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers. If only his film were as powerful as his presence.
Just hearing that Jordan Peel's Monkeypaw Productions was tapped to produce a remake felt like a relief. The filmmaker who gave us Get Out and Us would clearly filter what worked well with the original while shedding the not-so-great. Now, the film is here. Did such promise pay off?
The screenplay by Peele, Win Rosenfeld, and director Nia DaCosta viciously tears into gentrification, institutional hatred, and the exploitation of Black bodies and Black pain. Its attacks are blunt and sincere. And it stacks its unique narrative atop Rose's original tale, using the first film to solidify its message. Somewhere in its process, the new Candyman makes the old Candyman better without forgiving that first film's flaws.
But is it scary?
DaCosta concocts new and visually inventive methods for capturing the killer's magical assaults. Say Candyman's name five times into a mirror, and he will appear. And when he does, he never does so from the same direction. Hook-handed vengeance comes quick, slow, or in reverse. Whatever the moment calls for, DaCosta delivers.
Beyond the slasher trickery, Candyman is simply a gorgeous-looking movie. Cinematographer John Guleserian frames every shot with purpose. He makes the city a monster, a towering maw of construction, swallowing its subjects. Characters are placed like specks on the screen, insignificant dots amongst an uncaring landscape. Despair resides in the wide space that surrounds them.
Navigating the cold environment are two righteous artists, Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Brianna (Teyonah Parris). Both crackle with painful histories and hope to make sense of their past through creative expression. He as painter, she as curator.
The white world around them devours what they offer while also gleefully dismissing their work. The critics tell them what holds meaning and does not, and the artists must heed their decision. Hoping to unlock a fresh perspective and appease these gatekeepers, Anthony wanders into Cabrini-Green. There he learns the legend and the history of the Candyman.
DaCosta presents the artistic antagonists in broad fashion. The blunt snips that spit from their mouths will cause an eye to roll. These jerks aren't subtle. But you can't tell me you haven't encountered their pinky-out snobbery before. Each condescending racist in the art gallery is a two-dimensional replication of recognizable contemptible wannabes.
For most of the film, the horror seemingly acts as it did in Rose's original. The urban legend is real, and it strikes at those foolish enough to taunt their reflection with his name. DaCosta's film picks up devilish steam as it sprints toward its climax. Knowing what they know, Anthony and Brianna recontextualize the threat. This education plays out in a profoundly gratifying way that never releases the mythology's tragic core.
Quickie Review: Candyman is the movie you want it to be in 2021. It's scary, stylish, and busting with anger and action. Nia DaCosta redefines the original film's concept into a sharper instrument. The precision is fulfilling to the fan who sensed there was authenticity within the original's bungled endeavor. 8.5/10