August 26th, 2021




The man with a hook for a hand is the one they call Candyman. Since I was a kid, one of the scariest interpretations of the boogie man has been a character wielding a hook for a hand. Captain Hook, the killer from I Know What You Did Last Summer, and the 1992 original- Candyman (played magnificently by Tony Todd), all of them creating larger than life characters that stalk their prey, and become the thing we fear most. Unbeknownst to me, there’s a much deeper story behind Candyman, a character that I knew nothing about outside it’s horror movie advertising. I remember seeing full spreads in Wizard Magazine or in the back of a comic book and what I understood was that it was just another Freddie Krueger inspired slasher movie. That’s not the case with Nia DaCosta’s spiritual sequel to the 1992 film. This time, Candyman seems to be stepping into the light that this horror movie fully deserves, with an inspired amount of craft, a deeper dive into the folklore of this character, and plenty of images that will haunt you. I’m often fascinated by a good horror movie and this version of Candyman had me hooked.

As the closing credits of this Candyman crawled, my initial thought was that this was an incredibly flawed film, yet in those flaws, it was also one of my favorite movies of 2021. The story begins with an up and coming Chicago artist named Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his art curator girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris), living in a high-rise in Chicago, located in the River North area. We meet the couple having drinks with Brianna’s brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), who loves to indulge in a good scary story. He tells the tale of Candyman, going into detail on the events that took place in the 1992 version, where Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), in her academic research of a string of mysterious murders that occured in Chicago’s Cabrini Green neighborhood, was eventually killed in her pursuit of the Candyman. That story inspires Anthony in his painting, meeting a neighborhood local with first hand knowledge of the experience in William Burke (Coleman Domingo adding his gravitas), digging deeper into the legend of Candyman, welcoming him through the mirror, saying the name five times, a bee sting causing his skin to fester, and soon the art and the artist begin to become one with the mythic character.

Before I even began to write my review for Candyman, the floodgates opened for various opinions from critics. Black film critics are the first opinions you should read where their life experiences hit closer to the material than yours truly. Horror film critics have higher expectations, for more and less, from a movie as beloved as the original Candyman. And then there are many who loved it as much as I did. In my eyes, that is the true mark of a great film, where the artistic style, the in your face messaging from Nia DaCosta, co-writing the screenplay with Win Rosenfeld, and Jordan Peele, all of it feels inspired. What overshadows the flaws of this Candyman– fast pacing and editing make it move too quickly- is a masterful reclaiming of the narrative. DaCosta is making a ghost story in the eyes of the Black audience, focusing on the gentrification of Chicago’s Cabrini Green community, which was built by white communities, and then eventually torn down by white communities. It’s also a slasher movie in the vein of how the artist can push themselves to become the monster. Yahya Abdul-Mateen’s performance is strong, his character balancing between the pursuit of success, and the misrepresentation of Black artists. His dive into the Candyman becomes his blessing and his curse, finding an inspiration in the horror, which changes him for the worse.

The question for many will be if Candyman is scary and that’s a resounding yes. DaCosta plays with her style of storytelling, using silhouette puppetry to tell the fireside tales of Candyman, and with magnificent use of mirrors. The angles of a reflection can seem insignificant and then in the corner of our eye lives the Candyman. Cinematographer John Guleserian captures mirrors in a haunting style, similar to a jump scare without the fast cuts. Candyman also becomes a fascinating display of what Chicago was and has now become, which is a series of old and new neighborhoods stacked on one another. Similar to how Steve McQueen captures the city in Widows, this Candyman reveals the leftover housing projects that many people pass by on their way to a meal on Rush & Division, while also hitting on the romanticised version of Chicago that is soaked in a lot of blood. Rightfully, the themes of this Candyman will be heavy handed to some, but it’s important to see it as cinema in the vision of DaCosta, who is an artist with something to say that will leave audiences in awe.

DaCosta leaves her mark, implementing a new path to the story of Candyman, which goes deeper than just the boogeyman, creates a richer history than just someone who killed for fun, or someone that dared us to say his name into a mirror. This is an expression of craft, the sign of an auteur, working within the parameters of a horror sequel in her own eye. It’s a risk and for many it will be a failure, for many it will be flawed, and for many it will be a fantastic horror creation. This Candyman has the same daring inspiration of films such as Alex Garland’s Under the Skin or recently like Annette. You may be afraid to say the name into a mirror, but Candyman is a reflection of terror that audiences shouldn’t run away from, they should embrace it.



Written by: Leo Brady

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