Look, I am a middle class white guy who has lived most of his life in a suburb. The themes, ideas, and concepts in Nia DaCosta’s newest Candyman iteration are not new to me but they certainly hit in different ways. Its for that reason you should probably stop reading this review and head to critics of color who have lived a lot of moments of the film and frankly whose opinions matter more than mine on subjects of race and horror. So maybe check out what The Root, Ebony, and TheGrio have to say about the movie and then come back here.
Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a budding young artist who lives in a fancy apartment with his girlfriend and art curator Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris). That fancy apartment is just one of many that a gentrified Chicago is utilizing to rid itself of some of the lower income housing that featured so heavily in the original film. Specifically, Cabrini Green seems to feature as a character, a throwback to the original film for sure. This Cabrini Green is much smaller. Its violence less oppressive. It feels more like a little village than the ominous omnipresent evil of the first film. Its the first way the film works to orient its gaze from the inside looking out as opposed to the outside looking in which often happens in the original. As McCoy learns about gentrification he also learns about the boogeyman of Cabrini Green. After a chance encounter with William Burke (Colman Domingo) a longtime resident of Cabrini Green, McCoy creates a piece of art encouraging everyone to summon Candyman by saying his name into an art installation that he created. As things are want to do after summoning him, lots of folks die. Ok I will spoil a bit in the next paragraph so maybe skip it if you want to go in fresh.
Spoilers For Candyman Below
As McCoy learns more about Candyman(s) legacy we get a broader vision of where he comes from. While shared collective racial trauma has always been at the core of the Candyman myth the newest version leans heavy into this legacy discussing how The Candyman has shifted forms over time. Each generation has a new version that offers up a visionary monster but also reaffirming the racial hierarchy of Chicago. Whereas the first movie suggests that white interlopers can experience this collective pain DaCosta’s Candyman discusses that black folx are often the primary victims of that ancestral trauma (not some white college grad student). By positioning our discussion on the ramifications of ancestral trauma on black culture and black people the movie manages to escape some of the other criticisms of the first film.
Candyman works on an intellectual level for sure but it absolutely nails the slow body horror that seems to be taking over one of the main characters body. With what appears to be entirely practical effects I sat in disgust and horror as we learn that the only thing worse than what happened to Daniel Robataille is becoming Robataille slowly over the span of a few days. Its painful, terrifying and captures the essence of what makes body horror absolutely devastating.
Our principals provide absolute standout performances. The total transformation of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II looks like it was hard work. His passion mixed with possession is something to watch. Parriss offers us a final girl full of common sense, (The “nope” scene stole the show in my critic screening) toughness and love. Colman Domingo also embodies the sage archetype dispensing advice and information with a creepy smile and twinkle in his eye. One of the real unsung heroes is the puppetry that the movie uses to introduce its flashbacks. these scenes are haunting, beautiful, and often full of violence that is incredible hard to watch even if it is only a light show.
As the end of the movie nears I for once in my life wish that the runtime was a bit longer. At ninety one minutes the film is VERY tight. Often moving scenes at a quick pace. I wanted to learn more about the complex lives of our main characters. At times the art scenes felt a bit rushed and seemed to be as much about making fun of the art and artists (I see you Velvet Buzzsaw) as it was about celebrating them. Our denouement feels a bit hurried and seems to upend some of ideas the movie works hard to create earlier in the film. There is a great cameo at the end of the film that is fantastic but the ambiguous ending will not be for everyone.
There is not a lot to celebrate currently in the ongoing march towards equality. It looks pretty bleak out there and I applaud DaCosta for leaning into that bleakness. If the original Candyman gave us a moment of relief at the end of the film this new Candyman does not care about that. Some may argue this version of Candyman is less sympathetic. I think that character may look less sympathetic to a white audience but frankly I think that is the point and I am 100% cool with that.
Writers Jordan Peele, Nia DaCosta, and Win Rosenfeld have adapted old characters and made them new and fresh even though the story has been with us since the 1890’s. I think that is the point of the movie. It is a new story but the characters, plot devices, and tropes continue to be recycled. Its this cycle of violence, abuse, poverty, and destruction that are at the root of the story and at the core of black liberation. I do not think Candyman offers any solutions. In that way it acts less of a map forward and more of a Rosetta Stone of which we can use to interpret our own troubled histories. Its an excellent movie that will surely continue to pave the way for DaCosta, Peele, and the Candyman mythos.
Candyman is out tomorrow. Go see it in a theatre if you feel safe. Say his name, or don’t. Whatever feels right.
Tyler has been the editor in chief of Signal Horizon since its conception. He is also the Director of Monsters 101 at Truman State University a class that pairs horror movie criticism with survival skills to help middle and high school students learn critical thinking. When he is not watching, teaching or thinking about horror he is the Director of Debate and Forensics at a high school in Kansas City, Missouri.