Synopsis: For as long as the residents can remember, the housing projects of Chicago’s Cabrini Green neighborhood were terrorized by the word-of-mouth ghost story about a supernatural killer known as Candyman, easily summoned by those daring to repeat his name five times into a mirror. A decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, a visual artist’s chance encounter with a Cabrini Green old-timer exposes him to the tragically horrific nature of the true story behind the Candyman, unleashing a terrifyingly viral wave of violence that puts him on a collision course with his destiny
Stars: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Tony Todd, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Vanessa Williams, Rebecca Spence, Kyle Kaminsky, Christiana Clark
Director: Nia DaCosta
Running Length: 91 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: Even as the Delta Variant rages through the U.S. and hints of another shutdown begin to loom large, films that were delayed from a year ago are sliding into theaters and making their rescheduled dates and for that I’m grateful. Of all the movies that were bumped around the calendar due to the original pandemic lockdown in 2020, I was most disappointed that producer Jordan Peele’s ‘spiritual sequel’ to 1992’s Candyman was affected because as a huge fan of the original I was looking forward to what Peele and director Nia DaCosta could do with this property. More than that, I was intrigued to see what it was going to be in the first place. We knew it wasn’t a remake, but was it a direct sequel, a stand-alone film, a re-imagining of Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” that inspired the first movie? We had to wait a whole year to find out but Peele (Us) and DaCosta kept us engaged along the way with creative trailers and morsels of hints that showed more of the movie yet still didn’t reveal all of their cards.
As it turns out, this is one of those films that was well worth the wait. A rare delight that pays service to fans of the original while addressing a new generation of devotees that have come onboard over the years (and maybe during this last year alone), DaCosta’s Candyman picks at the fabric lining the jewel box the 1991 movie was placed in and uses it to craft a horrific new garment all its own. There’s a distinct voice present throughout that isn’t just Peele’s with its direct or indirect societal symbolism but a generational one that lives, works, fears, and loves in the environment DaCosta and her crew probe to terrific results. That it manages to cover a lot of ground in such a short time frame without ever feeling rushed is a testament to efficiency on all levels.
The original Cabrini Green towers have long since been torn down but their dark history remains nightmare material only spoken about in hushed whispers or, better yet, not at all. Now, new housing has been built on the same site and after a brief prologue set in the late ‘70s we meet two new tenants of the gentrified Cabrini. Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris, Chi-Raq) and her artist boyfriend Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Aquaman) are settling into their new digs when Brianna’s brother (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, The Kid Who Would Be King) tells them the story of Helen Lyle, a grad student that went crazy after visiting Cabrini looking for an urban legend known as Candyman. With a hook for a hand, the killer was said to haunt the projects and called Cabrini his home, but Helen took the investigation too far, becoming obsessed with her own research, killing numerous people, and abducting a small child that almost died at her hands before she was finally burnt alive. Scary stuff that Brianna doesn’t want to know about. (But viewers of the original know the story isn’t quite accurate…)
Once stunted artistically, the terrifying tale inspires Anthony in surprising ways. Researching Candyman by visiting the old part of the neighborhood and meeting a long-time resident (Colman Domingo, Without Remorse), he comes away with a new zeal for expression, just in time for an art show at the gallery Brianna works at. The piece he creates is a mirror and he provides instructions on how to ‘call forth’ the Candyman by saying his name five times to your reflection. One unfortunate soul does it, then another, and before you know it, bloody death is everyone around Anthony…but is he to blame for all the carnage or is he simply fulfilling a destiny that started long ago and was never truly finished? Perhaps a visit to his mother Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Williams) will explain it all…
Originally written as a short story set in London’s tenement neighborhoods, the director of the 1992 film wisely moved the action to Chicago’s projects and it gave the film some credibility as a statement on how communities create their own legends. Sometimes it is to protect themselves from the evil that lurks within but often it can be to keep the more wicked outsiders from entering. Peele, DaCosta, and co-screenwriter Win Rosenfeld latch onto that notion and run with it, exploring how the tale of Candyman has evolved overtime and why it’s possible that a society might need a Candyman just as much as he needs them to believe in him. It’s surprisingly not as tangled or heady as it could have been and the script isn’t interested in making more out of it than that.
I also appreciated that while this new Candyman is brutal in its violence, much of it is restrained and either shown at a distance or just offscreen. After the last year, many of us have seen death firsthand and so anything we see portrayed on film could never been as disgusting or horrific as what we’ve witnessed real people, not actors, doing to each other. When it’s appropriate, DaCosta lets the audience have it but there’s ample build up to get to those moments of bloodshed. Accompanied by stellar production design from Cara Brower (Our Friend), unique cinematography by John Guleserian (Love, Simon), and a nerve-jangling score courtesy of Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, all of the elements are there to keep you on the edge of your seat, breathless, waiting for the next shock to arrive.
There was a time when remakes of these old titles felt like betrayals of trust but when they’re handled with such intelligence and care like Candyman has been, I find that I can relax a little bit when the next one is announced and hope that future filmmakers learn a thing or two from it. This is how you take a fan-favorite property and do something of your own with it, while at the same time allowing that previous film to live on (and thrive) because your film is equally as terrifying and well-crafted. Sweets to the sweet is a famous bit of graffiti seen on the walls of Cabrini Green in the original film and that goes double for DaCosta and her crew.