Nobody has had this much fun with mirrors since influencers saw whole careers inside of them.
Writer/director Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is icky-sticky, pulpy urban legend reappropriation. It is grotesquely beautiful while also purposefully trashy. It exposes how the creation of a bogeyman is always a sociopolitical strategem while also serving as a great bogeyman movie. It pokes a hooked hand at questions about artistic exploitation while also maybe-sorta artistically exploiting…
Still, if the biggest complaint that can fairly be leveled is that your gore-laden reboot of an early 90s slasher film is too short, treat yourself to a king-size Snickers because you’ve made a goddamned great horror flick.
Candyman isn’t a remake or a redo but a retaliation against weak-willed genre movies that have long trafficked in troublesome tropes. Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a Chicago artist who has lost his mojo. His girlfriend, Brianna (Teyonah Parris), is an art curator with a spectacularly upsetting backstory that makes her career choice hyperbolically tragic. Over dinner one night, Brianna’s brother, Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), shares a spooky story that just-so-happens to be a warped synopsis of the original Candyman.
Anthony is instantly and immediately completely obsessed with the monstrous mythology of the Cabrini-Green housing projects. He begins digging into what actually happened and encounters William Burke (Colman Domingo), a laundromat owner who is alarmingly well-informed about hook-handed mutilation. No sooner than Anthony begins producing new work, the bodies start piling up. What follows isn’t so much a stunning series of revelations as it is a sequence of fully expected events that nevertheless dazzle. That is, if your definition of “dazzle” is “enjoy a whistle-stop tour of every horror movie style, from gory body grossness to jump scares.”
Even if Jordan Peele hadn’t produced and cowritten it, the fact that Candyman centers the very literal body count of gentrification means it was always destined to be stress tested against Get Out. That’s just such bullshit. The idea that every Black horror movie must be compared to a movie that redefined mainstream filmmaking and is already entrenched as one of the greatest films of all time is kinda repellant. Candyman isn’t here for Oscars.
Dinging DaCosta’s work for being literal and didactic fails to make any meaningful distinction between subgenres. This isn’t a borderline drama. This is a slasher film about a guy summoned by saying his name five times in a mirror, just to show he’s two-levels scarier than that Bloody Mary dud. He sometimes barfs bees and his easy-cosplay outfit is a cheap fur-lined coat. This isn’t supposed to be borderline drama. It is intended to be sleek rubbish and stylish piffle.
What is fair, however, is pointing out that Candyman is too short. By maybe as much as an hour… DaCosta (ahem) sets her hook in so deeply that any reasonably troubled soul would have spent more time unpacking the rushed climax and barely existent epilogue. In fact, the unnecessarily brisk approach is likely what has made some feel as though the fundamental underlying ideas were half-baked or sloppy. Absolutely f’n not. Every choice made was the right one, the film just fails to provide us the space for us to come to that realization on our own.
Even if eating a whole bag of chocolaty treats is preferable, a fun-sized candy bar is still mighty tasty. Candyman is almost-transcendent, quasi-brilliant, and fully confirmation that DaCosta is a profound talent. Not bad for a 30-year-old franchise designed as a Freddy Krueger rip-off.
Grade = A-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
In a must-read review, Angelica Jade Bastién at Vulture says “Candyman is the most disappointing film of the year so far, limning not only the artistic failures of the individuals who ushered it to life, but the artistic failures of an entire industry that seeks to commodify Blackness to embolden its bottom line.”
Courtney Small at Cinema Axis says “Dipping its heavy-handed brush into the colours of injustice, the film paints a messy portrait of generational trauma that is equally intriguing and too sprawling for its own canvass.”
Carolyn Mauricette at View From the Dark says “DaCosta’s Candyman is smart, brief and slick, I see it as a rallying cry. Candyman’s whole purpose is to be seen again, to expose a deep legacy of injustice that has been an invisible (to some) burden on an entire people.”