Movie Review: ‘Candyman’ (2021)

Director: Nia DaCosta

Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Tony Todd, Vanessa Estelle Williams

Plot: Chicago artist Anthony McCoy learns the story of Candyman, an urban legend linked to the murders committed by Helen Lyle decades earlier. He grows obsessed with the tale, and follows a deep rabbit hole into stories that shaped this horrific character.

The following contains spoilers.

Review: This has certainly been a long time coming, both as a retread of the horror classic and as another delayed release from 2020. This isn’t quite a sequel, and it’s not a reboot, rather it’s a clever evolution of the concept that links it to race relations in the modern day. The original Candyman focused on the ghettoisation of the African American community in the US and the culture of violence that emerged as a result. Fittingly, this return to Cabrini Green opens with a discussion of gentrification. This recurring cycle of ghettos giving way to gentrified, privileged neighbourhoods is the initial theme of Anthony’s (Abdul-Mateen II) artwork before he begins his own journey into Candyman madness.

When he learns the story of Helen Lyle (played by Virginia Madsen in the original film), Anthony looks into the history of Cabrini Green and learns of the Candyman legend from laundromat owner Burke (Domingo). Surprisingly it isn’t the legend that we’re already familiar with, but the story of a local, one-handed man who liked to give sweets to kids only to be killed by the police. The one aspect that rings true is that the spectral Candyman can be summoned by saying his name in the mirror five times. The more Anthony delves into the Candyman lore, and creates art inspired by it, the more he unravels. As a series of murders follows his steps, the more Anthony seems to be possessed by or controlled by Candyman.

This is the part of the movie that works best, and what we’re referring to when we call this an evolution of the story. Rather than repeating the same story as previous movies, this movie positions Candyman as a representative of violence committed against the black community over the centuries, with Daniel Robitaille (Todd) being the first of many. Each generation has their own version of the Candyman legend, each one being represented by the hook-handed spirit. This rolls out very slowly through the story, with the tales of the individual victims of violence only being revealed during the final credits through some very creative shadow puppet animation.

Although we’re always keen for some Tony Todd screen time – that dude is seriously cool – we love the concept at the core of this movie. The story of the Candyman being different black men murdered by lynch mobs, each being a new reiteration of the same story, ties in perfectly with current day issues. The recurring story of black people being murdered by police officers is recurs with a disgusting level of frequency, and this is a clever way to tie it into this fictional supernatural tale about urban legends. Fortunately the allegory isn’t as awkwardly explained as it was in Peele’s recent The Twilight Zone.

Another strength of this movie is the visuals. DaCosta does some amazing work with the use of mirrors throughout the movie, using them as a sneaky way to insert Candyman into the corner of our vision during different scenes. Long, winding corridors, enclosed spaces and the use of darkness are recurring visual elements that are excellently handled. DaCosta will be one to watch as they step into the MCU for The Marvels, along with Candyman star Teyonah Parris.

That leaves us with the part of the movie that don’t click as well, specifically the structure of the story. For the most part, we’re following the perspective of Anthony as he explored Candyman’s story and loses his mind. When we get to the crucial third act we’re confronted with a jarring perspective shift to Anthony’s girlfriend Brianna (Parris), in addition to a betrayal from a character Brianna hadn’t met up until that part. It’s deflating to be disconnected from our perspective character so late in the game. Throughout the movie we also jump into flashbacks that can be downright confusing, as we have to work out where and when we are before we get shunted back to the present day. Some of these jumps don’t seem to have any function in the story, such as the death of Brianna’s father, or vignettes best suited to the trailer. Initially some of these scenes fit into the idea of Candyman needing his story to be repeated and retold, but this story thread gets dropped before the finale so they don’t have much lasting impression.

Candyman, in silhouette, in Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta.

We love the concept and the the direction this movie takes the franchise, but the way the story is told means that it doesn’t land as hard as it should. This may not be the shot in the arm the franchise needed, but it’s a solid continuation of the concept.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN