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Review: Candyman

This new Candyman, from director Nia DaCosta, is said to be a "spiritual sequel" to the wonderful 1992 horror film by director Bernard Rose. The film was an adaptation of a Clive Barker short that starred Virginia Madsen as Helen Lyle. The projects that Helen met her end at have been torn down. Cabrini Green is now gentrified. This new film stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy. Instead of a student, Anthony is an artist. The gentrification theme is called out early signaling audiences that this new Candyman has a lot on its mind.

Anthony lives with his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris). Early on, her brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) tells the tale of Candyman and of Helen. Cleverly told via shadow puppets, this retelling has many of the facts wrong. Just like any good urban legend, the story has been modified and exaggerated as it gets told from generation to generation who are further removed from the past. This is another key theme to the film, particularly around the endless cycles of violence on Black bodies. While this theme was certainly part of the original film, it is given a heftier focus here. Co-writer and producer Jordan Peele clearly aims to take Candyman as a central black figure of lore in a way that the original could never have.

Early on Anthony meets William (Colman Domingo) on his quest to find inspiration from Cabrini Green. William was just a boy when he met Candyman, or so he thought. He knowingly tells Anthony the real story of Helen Lyle and offers a key perspective "one White woman dies and the story lives forever." This is a crucial moment to the realignment of the Candyman legend. He is a character dependent on his name being spoken and remembered. His tragedy, we learn, can only be remembered if people speak him into existence. "Say his name" is the film's tagline and one can't help to notice how clearly this ties to the recent murders of Black people like Breonna Taylor.

Anthony begins to transform as he paints Candyman. The film goes full body horror, reminding me of David Cronenberg's The Fly, as Anthony starts to become Candyman. The why here is the film's central question and I certainly don't plan on spoiling it. We learn that William's Candyman was actually just a strange local man who was brutally murdered. Candyman represents many black men who hold on to the agony of the violence dealt upon them. Is Anthony going to be subjected to the same fate?

DaCosta and Peele do play to fans of the original film. Madsen's voice is heard a few times and Vanessa Williams reprises her role. The script is tightly constructed with a very smart and empathetic idea on how to update the Candyman lore. Peele's influence can be felt in how well the film integrates social commentary into its horror while still sprinkling in moments of humor. This is another successful Black horror film that gives us both the chills we want from a horror film while offering a Black perspective.

The one negative aspect of the film comes from its final act. While the screenplay is brilliant and the ending is very satisfying conceptually, something is missing in terms of character. While Anthony is compelling and Adbul-Mateen gives a hell of a performance, we don't necessarily feel emotionally tied to him. This is partly due to the metamorphosis taking place in him throughout the film. He becomes more something in service of the story than a character to care about. Brianna is liable but is often pushed to the side as this is more Anthony's story than hers. This affects the film's final act as neither character's fates feel particularly compelling. Regardless, Candyman gives you so much to chew on with its ending that it still all works. You may not be invested the film's climax but you will be discussing it long after the credits roll.



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