The day has finally come. Gone are the moments of scrutinizing every second of the Candyman trailer, with the brilliant and unexpected use of shadow puppetry, the gorgeous face of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and the quick shots of that infamous hook. This week, we can finally see the greatly speculated, hotly anticipated reimagining of Candyman by director Nia DaCosta.
Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is an up-and-coming artist and the beau to Brianna (Teyonah Parris), an up-and-coming art curator. They live in a new condo in the Cabrini-Green area, and both want to see Anthony succeed, but he has been uninspired for the last few years. When Brianna’s brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) recounts the story of Helen Lyle and her descent into madness while researching Chicago’s infamous housing project Cabrini-Green and the legend of Candyman, Anthony becomes inspired by Helen and goes in search of more info. He heads to the abandoned rowhouses of what’s left of Cabrini-Green due to gentrification and meets William (Colman Domingo), a man who grew up in the area. He tells Anthony of the Candyman, a fellow who offered children candy and was wrongly killed by the cops when William encountered him as a boy. Anthony begins to work feverishly once he feels a connection to the story. In his interactive piece, Anthony includes the summoning of Candyman, but his showing at Brianna’s gallery is misunderstood. This fuels him to prove his subject matter is worthy. The only problem is the murders that start after the show when people start invoking the legend. Anthony’s ego and fervor grow, and his hand, stung by a tell-tale bee on his first visit to Cabrini-Green, becomes a grotesque reminder of his obsession. As his sanity spirals into a disorienting swirl, Anthony loses himself in his art and the legend.
I wanted to approach this new version of Candyman with neutrality. Most of us who live for horror has a deep affection for 1992’s Candyman by Bernard Rose, even though there are some problematic themes in the first film. The love for Tony Todd, Clive Barker’s source “The Forbidden,” and the score by Phillip Glass lives in horror history for many of us. I wanted to give this version a chance, and I liked what I saw.
I liked how DaCosta, Jordan Peele, and Win Rosenfeld managed to capture the meaning of legacies in Candyman. There are many layers like the passing down of Helen’s ego to Anthony as he becomes part of Candyman’s curse; the loss of the area’s legacy to “progress”; and the history of a haunted artist. I zeroed in on the artist’s struggle in this version, something that was glossed over in the first and second film as much as I loved them and clumsily handled in that third abomination made to capitalize on Todd’s iconic character. Growing up with an artist for a father, I remember seeing the struggle for inspiration or when others don’t see your vision, and witnessing how that can easily become something that plagues the psyche.
There’s no mistaking that 2021’s Candyman will never overshadow what Tony Todd did as the first black slasher since the new version of the hook-handed killer is somewhat of a non-event here. However, DaCosta has created a piece that takes the parts of what was good and what was missing, reinterpreting it all into something new. In this new version, Daniel Robitaille’s story was translated for modern times and modern issues that are so prevalent today, and I’m satisfied with the retelling of this tale within the context of the historically senseless and cowardly accusations of Black men and loss of Black lives. The perspectives within the artistic community and gentrification are covered as well, melding the two in a clever way that highlights how white supremacy has a hold on how Black people live, where we live, and how we express ourselves. The beautiful use of the shadow puppetry by Manual Cinema featured in issue 201 of Rue Morgue Magazine was artistically simplistic yet worked within the modern concept, a fable within a contemporary story.
I appreciated that DaCosta paid attention to many details, wrapping Candyman in a tightly bound, crisp package. The cinematography by John Guleserian was graphic and slick, Catrin Hedström’s editing was clean and sharp, coupled with the equally sharp sound design and the art by Chicago artists Cameron Spratley and Sherwin Ovid at the center of the film was an enormously compelling element. We had great references to the original movie with Virginia Madsen and Vanessa Estelle Williams making cameos, a fantastic set design, plus some updated storylines like Brianna’s past with tortured artists, William as the voice of the past and the spot-on use of mirrors as that corner of the eye scare. And the cast? I loved them. Abdul-Mateen II, Parris, Stewart-Jarrett and Domingo all gave their characters dimension, humanity and perspectives needed to make delving into the retelling of this famed story so exciting.
I think the finale will bring up many discussions, and even though Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is smart, brief and slick, I see it as a rallying cry. Candyman’s whole purpose is to be seen again, to expose a deep legacy of injustice that has been an invisible (to some) burden on an entire people. That cry is “Say his name,” a phrase that made me wince because of the weight it will always hold due to the last couple of years. But what it does here stands front and center to challenge those who doubt.
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