A spiritual sequel/update/re-imagining of Bernard Rose’s iconic 1992 film, the new Candyman has been anticipated since before the pandemic. To many, it represents the latest entry in a burgeoning sub-genre of socio-political horror kicked into gear by Jordan Peele’s Get Out (Peele produced the film, and co-wrote the screenplay with DaCosta and Win Rosenfeld).
Instead, Candyman feels like two movies at war with each other, a fantastic genre film and a muddled message film that never quite capitalizes on its best moments.
As a horror film, Candyman delivers. DaCosta, whose only other feature credit is the 2018 crime thriller Little Woods with Tessa Thompson and Lily James, demonstrates a firm handle on how to manipulate tension and shoot an effective horror set-piece. Centered on an artist named Anthony (Yayha Abdul-Mateen II), who starts to investigate the urban legend of a killer named Candyman in the ruins of the Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago, the film scares using every tool at its disposal.
The opening scene shows a young Black boy in the 1970s doing laundry in Cabrini-Green, the real-life public housing project that served as the backdrop for the original Candyman (it was demolished entirely by 2011). He’s greeted by a man emerging from a gaping hole in the wall, in an image the none too subtly communicates the birth of something monstrous.
DaCosta delivers haunting imagery like this throughout. Cronenberg-like decaying skin, a head surrounded by a swarm of bees, vicious murders framed in unique and unsettling shots; DaCosta utilizes all of it to craft a taut and truly scary genre piece, backed up by Abdul-Mateen and Colman Domingo giving uniquely unsettling performances.
Unfortunately, this clarity of vision loses momentum as the film progresses. It becomes obsessed with the larger themes it's trying to address, but never commits to any of them long enough for one to truly stick. Candyman deals with gentrification, racism, generational trauma, state-sanctioned violence, poverty, and art co-opting and bastardizing all of it, all within a two-hour runtime. And yet, it seemingly can’t decide what takes precedent, all of them fighting for prime position and none gaining it. At one point, an art critic says about Anthony’s work, “It doesn’t leave much room for audience interpretation,” and the line feels far more relevant than it should.
The obvious caveat here is I’m not the subject of this film, nor the target audience. I’m closer to the white gallery owner played by Brian King, deciding on the impact of Black art without the expertise required. I’d recommend Robert Daniels’ review for Polygon to gain a better understanding of why the depiction of the Cabrini-Green projects isn’t quite the holistic portrait it aims to be.
And I’d recommend everyone go see Candyman, as it’s a fascinating and complicated view of a community dealing with the horror inflicted on them throughout history. Stay for the impeccably crafted genre scares, but don't expect the film to provide any clear commentary, as it valiantly tries to address many important issues, but ultimately falls short.
Candyman is in theaters now. Visit candymanmovie.com to buy tickets at participating Pittsburgh theaters.