1992’s Candyman is an iconic slasher and an important, but flawed step forward for Black representation in horror. Directed by Bernard Rose and based on Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden, Candyman was successful enough to warrant two terrible sequels and now, Nia DaCosta is bringing the man with a metal hook back. And he’s out for blood, lots of it.
Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a struggling artist who has just moved to a fancy new flat in Cabrini-Green with his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris). Anthony finds new inspiration as he is introduced to the legend of the Candyman who supposedly still haunts Cabrini-Green. He meets the owner of a local laundromat William (Colman Domingo) who happily shares details of the legend with Anthony but of course, strange and gory things begin to happen all around Anthony as well as to Anthony himself after a bee sting.
The first question on everyone’s mind is, is this a remake, reboot or a sequel? Honestly, Candyman is a bit of everything, but most importantly, it’s an independent continuation of the legend itself. It is inherently tied to Rose’s film, but it also recontextualizes it and expands on it, forcing us to interrogate our own relationship with Rose’s film, which unfortunately succumbed to the white saviour narrative. Here, DaCosta explores what legends are made out of and what they mean while also looking at our relationship with stories and art.
Candyman has plenty of social commentary but it also works well as a straight-up horror film about a boogeyman lurking in the shadows. John Guleserian’s cinematography utilises mirrors and other reflective surfaces to craft an unsettling mood, even if the film never becomes outrightly scary. The film is gory, but it could have been gorier. Some of the inevitable kills feel a little tame and some of the CGI is less than impressive, but the practical effects look wonderful and DaCosta expertly navigates the tricky narrative with style.
At 90 minutes, Candyman is lean and mean, maybe a little too lean. It’s packed full of both spectacle and social commentary and could have used an extra 10 minutes to flesh everything out a bit more. DaCosta is an efficient, almost economical filmmaker but she could have been a bit more indulgent here. She gets the most out of her cast and delivers shocks with confidence and visual flair. Her shot compositions are immaculate and precise and Candyman for sure is one of the finest horror films of 2021.
The cast are also on fine form. While Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is wonderful as our self-destructive, obsessed protagonist of sorts Anthony, it’s Teyonah Parris’ Brianna who becomes the beating heart of Candyman. She, too, is put through the wringer and she suffers and is witness to horrible things and Parris, or the script by Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld and DaCosta, never reduces her into a screaming damsel in distress. Colman Domingo is also impressive and it’s fun to see Vanessa Williams return as Anthony’s mother Anne-Marie, even if she is criminally underused.
What’s most satisfying about Candyman is just how smart it is without ever becoming smug. It takes the original legend and fits it into our times and manages to say something real and meaningful while also entertaining our socks off. It’s at times frustratingly obvious about its themes, but why should it water down or over-complicate what it wants to say about the world we live in? Perhaps the time for subtlety is over and when have horror films ever been coy about their themes or visual metaphors? The film occasionally threatens to crumble under its own weight, but it is a stylish, tight masterclass in tension and mood from DaCosta.
Candyman is in cinemas August 27.