Film Review: Nia DeCostas’ ‘Candyman’ (2021) Is An Inspired Continuation Of The Franchise
by Ben Martin
Candyman. Candyman. Candy…
Nope, I can’t even write his name five times, much less say it. Back in 1992, director Bernard Rose adapted iconic author Clive Barker’s 1986 short story The Forbidden. In doing so, Rose transplanted the story to the states, setting it in the Cabrini Green projects of Chicago. Moreover, he changed the race of the titular Candyman and gave the role to Tony Todd, who made the character into the horror icon he is to this day. Despite two horrible sequels (with which Rose was not involved, the legend he helped create in the 1992 film lives on. The only problem with the legacy is that the character of Candyman is often bunched in as just another (and perhaps one of the last) iconic slashers. However, in reality, both the character and the movie Candyman are a metaphor for the tragic institutionalized racism that’s unfortunately still rampant in America.
Director and co-writer Nia Decosta (The Marvels) and producer/co-writer Jordan Peele (Us) commit to continuing the tradition of horror as metaphor and socio-political commentary in what Universal Studios and MGM have coined a “Spiritual sequel” to the near-masterpiece that is the ‘92 original. But of course, the studios are also perpetuating the current and irritating trend of having these “lega-sequels” share the same name as their original counterparts. (But, I suppose we can thank Halloween (2018) for that.) Before I delve into the film’s plot, I feel the need to make two things very clear about how this movie’s being marketed. First and foremost, as I said, Peele’s a co-writer and producer on this new interpretation of Candyman, and his influence can certainly be felt. However, this film is most definitely Decosta’s vision, of which she’s entirely in command. Secondly, the term is nothing more than another one of those fancy terms studious cook up. In actuality, the movie in review is a direct sequel to that original picture. But not one that would require audiences to have necessarily seen the ‘92 film.
This new film focuses on a tortured artist named Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his breadwinning art curator girlfriend, Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), living in a swanky apartment in a now gentrified section of Chicago. (Located not far from the previously infamous Cabrini Green.) Anthony has been creatively blocked, having not touched paint to canvas significantly in two years. However, the painter’s creativity is re-ignited when he learns of the legend of Candyman. As a result, he creates an art installation based on Candyman that garners a lot of attention. But, as Anthony becomes more enamored with the legend, he soon learns that summoning Candyman is no empty gesture!
Alright, let me go ahead and address the genre elephant in the room. Not all of my fellow horror fiends are going to dig the movie in review for one simple reason. Decosta’s interpretation does not focus on Todd’s Candyman/Daniel Robitaille. Such an approach will present a problem for folks who cannot or perhaps will not separate Todd from the titular character. (Not that separating the horror icon and the actor who portrays him is easy as Todd gives a haunting, regal performance in that original picture.) But even if that’s the case for you, I recommend you give this movie a chance. I say that because Decosta’s approach to Candyman arguably deepens the lore in a new and intriguing way. And, even if you don’t dig the new tact, it undoubtedly makes for the most exciting lega-sequel in the Horror genre to date.
Why? Because Decosta completely understands what makes the legend of Candyman persist with audiences. See, the very notion of Candyman and the ability to summon him is a terrifying idea that much else is needed. The presence of Candyman and the possibility of him making an appearance permeates this picture to create a sense of perpetual foreboding, much akin to the 1992 film or even the classic Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The horror in this film is all about atmospheric tone, with just a tad of body horror thrown in for good measure. (An element I thought worked very well here.)
While I don’t have any shortage of praise to heap on this movie, Candyman is not without its flaws. The most glaring is the tight 90-minute runtime, which is a little too brisk for the film’s good. I find two-thirds of this movie to be exceptionally well-paced, but the third act is noticeably rushed. Watching it unfold, it feels like there must be a more extended director’s cut which Universal might have declined in favor of a shortened runtime for a theatrical release. Such a length or lack thereof doesn’t give any breathing room.
Events unfold so quickly in this film that’s its other issue, albeit a much smaller one, is hard to ignore. As you might have guessed, I’m referring to the social commentary and metaphor presented here. While I agree with all the views concerning institutionalized racism in America, and the relentless nature of trauma that Decosta and co are making, it could have been done with a lighter touch.
These matters are initially touched on very well, and the point is made perfectly. Alas, the filmmakers then proceed to put the b (or the bee) is subtle. That’s to say; the messaging eventually lacks any subtlety whatsoever. I’m not sure why they felt the need to hammer this commentary home, but I think it shows a certain lack of faith in the audience. Then again, no one seems to respond to subtleties anymore, so perhaps that was the thought process behind this tact.
The original 1992 film not only handled its commentary on similar ideas and presenting the metaphor in an ideal way, but it’s also nearly perfect. Therefore, don’t expect this new film to reach that level. But, it certainly gets close at times, and as I said, it is the best lega-sequel I’ve yet to see. Decosta’s Candyman is ultimately an inspired continuation of the series. The question: where does it go from here? Is this one-off, or has Decosta set a new template in place for a true franchise resurrection? I suppose time and the box-office receipts will tell. In the meantime, while I won’t dare you to say his name, I do encourage you to see Candyman (2021)!