Candyman Synopsis: Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his partner Brianna (Teyonah Parris) move into a loft in the now gentrified Cabrini. A chance encounter with an old-timer (Colman Domingo) exposes Anthony to the true story behind Candyman. Anxious to use these macabre details in his studio as fresh grist for paintings, he unknowingly opens the door to a complex past that unravels his sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence.
Unnerving audiences through its blend of grisly horrors and challenging themes, 1992’s Candyman generated a distinct place in horror. While the genre has always had its fair share of menacing mascots, few foes are as symbolic of real-world dilemmas as Candyman’s one-clawed entity. Several sequels (Farewell to the Flesh and Day of the Dead) attempted to further cement Candyman’s status. Yet, their lack of meaningful insights left audiences with nothing more than barebones imitations.
Nearly two decades later, Little Woods director Nia DaCosta has reimagined Candyman for our ever-changing modern times. Her loose sequel maintains a similar thematic edge to the 1992 original. It may not be as cohesive or singular as its predecessor, but DaCosta’s visceral and timely horrors still dig under the audience’s skin.
DaCosta implements a foreboding dreariness from the opening frame onward. She and Cinematographer John Guleserian imbue steely precision with every frame, implementing a cold veneer to encapsulate the demise of the now-Gentrified communities. From the ominous view of towering Chicago skyscrapers to the overly-pristine emptiness of each gentrified setting, the film mines pointed techniques to reinforce its thematic conceits.
As a horror vehicle, Candyman elicits a sturdy balance between visceral violence and the fear of the unknown. DaCosta presents the patient touch of an astute horror craftsman, choreographing each setpiece with enough subversion from the studio horror movie mold. Each kill – whether it’s on or off-screen – stabs at the heart of viewers, while Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe’s searing score notes further escalates each conflict. Perhaps a few more on-screen kills would have been preferred, but DaCosta is one of the rare directors to make her off-screen moments just as potent as the on-screen bloodshed.
The talented ensemble also manifests the material’s unnerving undertones. As Anthony, an artist seemingly possessed by the Candyman legend, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s erratic energy encapsulates the personal horrors derived from the slow slippage away from reality. His dedicated presence embodies the character’s downward spiral, incorporating enough humanity to render tragedy from the unavoidable. Teyonah Parris elevates her thinly-conceived role as Brianna, while Colman Domingo’s grizzled presence and smooth narration make him a perfect fit as Anthony’s mysterious acquaintance.
Candyman feels assured in nearly every aspect – except for the screenplay. Collaborated on by DaCosta, Win Rosenfeld, and producer Jordan Peele, the script presents interesting new wrinkles to contextualize this sequel for the modern age. White culture’s appropriation of black art, police abuse, and the commodification of black trauma are pointed conceits, yet the breathless 91-minute runtime rarely gets the time to explore them. The ideas reduce into simplified and overwritten nonsequiturs that rarely bear the weight of their potent concepts.
The screenplay’s lack of balance also derails the narrative. For such a tight movie, Candyman presents far too many intriguing subplots that ultimately go nowhere. There’s far too much telling and not enough showing, with brief asides rarely capturing the emotional trauma behind the character’s pains (Teyonah Parris’ character is hurt the most by this). It all culminates in a third act that’s equally predictable and underdeveloped – ending amidst a crescendo that leaves elements far too many undefined elements in its path.
Candyman’s craft far exceeds its narrative follow-through – an issue that will likely divide most viewers on DaCosta’s well-intended effort. For me, DaCosta’s poise and remarkable skill unearth enough horrors to whisk audiences along the uneven journey.