Candyman (2021) Review: Struggles to stick the landing on its interesting new mythos
*This Review Contains Spoilers*
With the recent trend of nostalgic horror franchises being rebooted, it was only a matter of time before Bernard Rose’s 1992 cult classic Candyman returned. However, unlike most of the reemerging horror franchises we’ve seen lately, this reboot had some strong potential to be something more than just financial gain and based on the talent behind it, it had the potential to be a modern incarnation of one of horror’s most notable modern myths.
I mean, when you have major emerging talent like Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfield (a frequent collaborator with Peele) writing alongside director Nia DaCosta and trailers that raise the hype bar for this reboot to an all-time high, it wasn’t crazy to say that Candyman looked like it could be THE big, breakout horror film of the year. For the most part, Candyman lives up to the hype with how it presents some unique storytelling visuals and builds out new lore that stems from Rose’s original film but struggles to stick the landing.
The film takes viewers back into the Chicago Cabrini-Green housing projects that may not have the prevalent gang violence it once had, but now struggles with gentrification and police brutality. Thirty years later, the events of the original movie are now a part of the urban legend of Candyman, a hook-handed specter that’s summoned when anyone says his name five times into a mirror and then brutally kills the speaker, and after hearing about it, visual artist Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) becomes transfixed with the tale. Anthony becomes so interested that he begins to create art around the legend of Candyman and resurrects interest in the myth within the community. Unknowingly, Anthony brings Candyman back and not only finds that doing so leaves trails of blood as people begin to say his name, but also that he’s serves a greater purpose for Candyman.
The way that DaCosta tells the urban legend of Candyman through shadow puppets is visually striking and evokes the same feeling as telling scary stories around a campfire. Although it’s a more playful look, there’s nothing light-hearted about the story it tells and that doesn’t mean that this Candyman movie doesn’t bring the bloodshed. There’s plenty of well-built suspense that leads to gruesomely bloody kills fitting for the titular killer, but they’re given some artistic flair through DaCosta’s direction. Her use of reflections to keep viewers peering into the background for something lurking is great, and they help create this growing connection with Anthony and Candyman. The kills are also not these gore-ridden “show all” kills as DaCosta has lot of nastiest parts happen off-screen so the audio and small peeks at what’s happening let your imagination go to the most horrifying places.
In between these great horror visuals is a story that initially breathes new life into the Candyman mythos and modernizes the meaning of Candyman. There’s this idea that forms of Candyman not just being a single entity, but rather a symbol for black oppression that’s really compelling. It’s fitting given that the Candyman we’re seeing isn’t Tony Todd’s version and rather another version where a man named Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove) became Candyman after he was murdered by the police. It’s also a great way to modernize the tale and build the mythos of Candyman around a horrifying history of police brutality and black suffering. When the film touches on this newly established mythos, Candyman becomes a more compelling character with a deeper motivation and meaning behind it that becomes a terrifying reality for Anthony as his purpose becomes clearer.
As Anthony begins to delve into the mythos of Candyman, there’s this clear obsession that grows within him that begins to consume him. Each time that bee sting infection becomes more grotesque and makes its way up Anthony’s arm, you can feel something begin to take control of him. It’s almost like he’s being forced on a path that he can’t veer from and once you learn more about Anthony’s real background, his destiny become clear. The reveal of Anthony’s connection to Candyman is such an excellent way for this reboot to be a true sequel to the original and create this horrifying view of being unable to escape destiny.
Unfortunately, not all Candyman’s story efforts come through as strongly and even get in the way of some of its best elements. Although all the performances are great with Abdul-Mateen II elevating Anthony’s obsession and horrifying realizations and Colman Domingo making a case for him to narrate every horror story going forward because his voice is so perfect for it, most of the characters are paper thin and don’t add much to the story. The film constantly tries to add some story beats about Anthony’s girlfriend Briana (Teyonah Parris) losing her father that go nowhere and there are definitely some scenes added in, like the bathroom scene from the trailer, that only work in upping the body count.
It’s also tough to say what this version of Candyman really wants to say in terms of different themes and the way it touches on racial inequality. Its early talks of gentrification pretty much take a back burner for most of the film and just end up being an opening talking point for reentering Cabrini-Green. It’s dissection of the art world isn’t all that compelling, relatable, or more interesting than anything surrounding Candyman. The biggest mistake this film makes though is muddying up its mythos surrounding Candyman stemming from black suffering at the hand of the police and empowered white people. Late into the film, there’s an incredibly unnecessary twist introduced that basically turns Anthony’s destined fate into someone unnecessarily forcing him to be the next Candyman.
This decision absolutely baffles me because the story was already heading in a clear direction. As Anthony became closer to the Candyman myth, it seemed like him becoming the next Candyman was a sure-fire thing considering everything that was happening. His worsening infection likely meant that he was going to lose his hand and the murders being connected to a piece he puts up inviting people to say Candyman’s name make him an obvious suspect for the police to hunt down and likely murder before he even has a chance to explain himself. His fate already seemed locked and sealed to become the next Candyman, so this twist of Domingo’s William acting crazy and forcing Anthony to become Candyman to persist the myth derails this idea completely and works against the idea of Candyman existing because of black men being murdered by the police or empowered white people to become this vengeful spirit. It’s an unfortunate misstep that leaves a sour taste in your mouth and makes the best parts of the film’s lore messy.
Candyman is another great showing of DaCosta’s direction with the artistic horror vision she executes throughout, but unfortunately struggles to be the grand return of the cult classic horror franchise since it muddies up the excellent lore and connections it builds in its final act.