Review: Nia DaCosta's subversive 'Candyman' hits the sweet spots
Courtesy of Universal
Recontextualizing a dated horror franchise with a fresh 21st century afterglow, Nia DaCosta’s spiritual sequel “Candyman” reinvents itself in real time. Produced by Oscar winner Jordan Peele (“Get Out” and “Us”), “Candyman” spins the wheel on the horrors of gentrification and the Black experience, mirroring the world in which unarmed people of color are gunned down, beaten and senselessly murdered with a firm directorial lens. DaCosta, who’s underappreciated gem “Little Woods” remains one of the best films of the past decade, uses the lore and mythology of the Candyman to not only facilitate a gory, spooky story (which includes one of the most elegant slasher kills in recent memory) but to reiterate the social and topical conscious of what happened following the death of George Flyod and how the real boogeymen are the ones who let this unforgivable brutality go unchecked.
Co-written by Peele and Win Rosenfield, “Candyman” attempts to jam about three movies worth of content into a slim 91 minutes, creating a flurry of tonal inconsistencies, but the overall execution brings everything full circle. Opening in the late ‘70s inside Chicago’s Cabrini Green, a low-income neighborhood where the majority of residents, predominantly African-Amercican, were relocated by developers for their own gain, residents gossip about an old folk tale: a silly ghost story about supernatural killer Daniel Robitalille aka the Candyman. Like the book from “The Evil Dead,” it’s relatively easy to summon the unwanted ghoul: look in a mirror and say his name five times and, uh, wait and see what happens.
Fast forward to the present day, where the narrative starts to feel familiar to those who appreciated the 1992 film. This time offering focus on visual artist Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who gets roped into the Candyman legend after relocating to Chicago with his girlfriend, an art curator named Brianna (Teyonah Parris). Cabrini Green has changed dramatically since the opening prologue, but some of the old townsfolk remember exactly what it was like, and to find inspiration for his new art exhibit, Anthony tracks a few of them down. Enter Colman Domingo’s William who had his own chance encounter with the Candyman, but tells in detail how this wasn’t the Tony Todd version everyone remembers, rather an innocent, harmless old man falsely accused of putting razor blades in children’s halloween candy.
One doesn’t need to be well versed in the original movie’s hypnotic aurora to appreciate DaCosta’s version and the smart tactics herself and the co-writers interweave into the script. They don’t write mindless characters getting killed for the sake of being killed (though one bathroom sequence where a squad of teenagers test the theory in front of a mirror is the stuff all great slasher films are made of and the practical effects are top-tier) but they’re actually trying to understand their surroundings. A refreshing change of pace from the doldrums of Platinum Dune remakes “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Those aren’t necessarily bad movies and their fun for the sake of turning off your brain for 90 minutes, but “Candyman” stimulates the senses.
And it starts with the ultra creative methods DaCosta utilizes for her killings, often in bloody, grotesque fashion and in the reflection of mirrors. It’s a visually striking movie from the slick opening credits until the final moments, brandishing gorgeous shadow puppetry to help unwind backstories and explore a menagerie of subjects. Robert A.A. Lowe’s startling score also shows up when you least expect it, resulting in a solid jolt or two, though DaCosta is wise not to go for the cheap jump scares. All the thrills and chills are earned as Anthony spirals into madness and tries to piece together his attachment to the Candyman and Mateen II, who was a revelation on HBO’s “Watchmen,” anchors the film with a sense of finade urgency and keeps audiences on their toes going from one account to the next.
“Candyman” drops the ball near the end-zone and some relationships and ideas aren’t deepened (Brianna has a brother, played by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, who was solely written for comic side relief) but the masterful camera work and atmospheric storytelling help subside the hurried finale that feels almost like a completely different movie, Still, it keeps the legacy alive and does its part at introducing smart horror into the subconscious of those who show up expecting the same slash and dash each time. The future of the “Candyman” has never looked this sweet.
CANDYMAN opens only in theaters Friday, August 27th