REVIEW: Candyman (2021)

candyman2021_posterHollywood’s penchant for recycling horror movie franchises hits a fresh height with Candyman (2021), Nia DaCosta’s timely, relevant, and whip-smart revival of the 1992 Bernard Rose original. That older film adapted a Clive Barker short story into an effective blend of scares and political commentary about white gentrification of black suburbs. Two sequels followed in 1995 and 1999, neither of which captured the quality or success of Rose’s film. With this new instalment, which works as half-sequel half-reboot, DaCosta has zeroed-in on that great blend of horror and social critique. It has taken 29 years, but Rose’s film finally has a worthy successor.

Artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) has recently moved into an expensive Chicago apartment with his art dealer girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris). Looking for inspiration on a new series of art works, Anthony begins to look into the past of Cabrini-Green – a predominantly black housing project upon the remains of which the luxury development was built. When he learns of the local myth of the ‘candyman’, and Cabrini-Green’s violent past, he finds the creative material that he seeks. He also threatens to re-open old wounds that for almost 30 years had remained closed.

Candyman is a tremendous and impressive piece of work, that manages to revive an old horror classic while also charting its own distinctive path through the material. It blends the slasher movie with elements of urban myth, race and class, community, and a surprising amount of body horror. DaCosta honours the original film, but never loses sight of her own intentions. The 1992 Candyman was, and is, a great horror movie. With its 2021 revival the black narrative that powered the earlier film has been taken up and advanced by black filmmakers. It is difficult to imagine a more effective continuation than this.

For straight-up fans of horror, there is a diversity of form being played with here. The old-fashioned grisly murders, with hapless victims hacked to death by an invisible, clawed assailant, are back and are excellently staged. On top of that the supernatural elements and urban myth narrative feel enhanced and more effective than ever. The original film had to invent a tragic 19th century back story to create the same feel; the new film is able to simply rely on the old film for the same purpose.

There is a strong element of transformational body horror at work too. I have never been particularly scared or confronted by scenes of gore and murder, or hideous on-screen monsters. I have always been creeped out by the idea of a character becoming the monster.

Weaved deftly through the story is both a contemporary reflection of the Candyman character in the light of the ‘black lives matter’ movement, and of trans-generational violence. Candyman’s existence is re-imagined to a significant degree here, and it is a change that pays tremendous dividends. This is one of those rare and impressive horror films that moves beyond a simple genre piece; this is a horror film that is about something.

Of course, it helps that it is all so stylishly put together. The production design and cinematography are effective and vibrant. The use of on-screen violence is measured and nicely restrained; a murder sequence in a high school bathroom is all the more harrowing for what DaCosta leaves out as opposed to what she has put in. Back story and folklore is expressed through dream-like shadow puppets. It is a technique reflective of Johannes Nyholm’s striking Koko-Di Koko-Da (2019), but utilised to a more significant extent.

Performances feel strong across the board, particularly Abdul-Mateen’s growing expressions of trauma and Parris’ pro-active and detailed performance in what could have been a fairly ordinary supporting role. They are representative of an all-round impressive film. As both a sequel and an original work, Candyman is one of 2021’s best studio-released features.

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