One of the most anticipated films of the year has long time been Nia DaCosta’s Candyman. A direct sequel of the 1992 film of the same name, written by the up and coming talent alongside Win Rosenfeld and acclaimed writer/director Jordan Peele.
Though it is a sequel, it works extremely well as a stand alone film with it’s backstory explained well enough that those who haven’t seen the original don’t feel excluded, without being overbearing in repeating what’s already familiar. It’s stylistically beautiful throughout, though there are limits to how much that can mask an old story. One thing that is clear however, is Nia DeCosta’s gorgeous eye for direction. The performances are all clear, with fully crafted characters even in the smallest roles.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen makes a star turn as Anthony, an artist sucked into the downward spiral of the legend. His character’s decline is steady yet free, to the point where you don’t realise how far Anthony has slipped until it’s too late: he is remarkably compelling, and surely on the cusp of major stardom. Teyonah Parris too, playing Anthony’s art gallery director partner, Brianna, is weighted realistically with a charming proficiency. Colman Domingo has such an exhilerating screen presence that I can forgive the lack of exploration into his character, and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is a welcome delight with a nicely balanced performance that rounds the whole cast off nicely.
Tony Todd reprises his role as the infamous Candyman, and does so with great skill. Todd is one of two stars from the original to reprise their role along with Vanessa Williams, and this unsettling and imposing performance creates the most multi-faceted iteration of the character yet.
This 2021 version expands on the original and brings it a greater meaning, that upsets yet somehow makes it scarier.
The first half is fresh and exciting in an almost subversive style, but then it loses its way when there’s no way out of the muddled mythology of the original story and held back by the limitations of the trope. This isn’t to fault DaCosta – I think it’s now impossible to effectively portray a villain that’s name needs to be repeated in the mirror. As one of the oldest horror tropes, it’s so overdone.
What is undeniably refreshing in Candyman is that it’s made by and for the Black community, after years of infamously being mistreated and under-utilised in the horror film genre via the white gaze, even in the original Candyman of ’92. It’s an intentional reclamation by DaCosta, that’s smart and effective: I highly recommend this great review from Kelechi Ehenulo, who gives more insight on this.
There are some absolutely gorgeous visual moments that give the film a real vivacious edge, both in the live action majority of the film and in the repeated shadow puppet sequences that are utilised to tell us backstories.
Candyman very much feels like DaCosta’s window into the business on a grander scale, and I respect that. Taking a long-tired trope and making anything interesting of it is no mean feat at all. She clearly has the ability to go far in the industry, and there’s no greater way to put her on the map than the most anticipated horror film of the summer.
While the silly ‘movie monster’ myth now feels cheap, there’s a vindication to it that feels the story can now peacefully be put to rest. I hope we’ll never have to say ‘Candyman’ five times again, but we will certainly be saying DaCosta’s name repeatedly for years to come.
Candyman is in cinemas now