The original 1992 “Candyman” came out as the VHS era was booming. DVDs were still four years away so VHS cassettes were the way millions of people consumed their movies. When “Candyman” came out it wasn’t some genre-changing masterpiece, yet critics recognized not only its gory violence but its surprisingly rich social commentary. But for many, “Candyman” was just another VHS tape stuck in the horror section at their local video store.
As prep for my review of the new “Candyman” sequel, I rewatched Bernard Rose’s ‘92 original for the first time in decades. It turns out the critics’ favorable appraisal still holds up. I only wish I felt as strong about Nia DaCosta’s fascinating yet frustrating 2021 follow-up.
“Candyman” the 2021 edition is an entertaining mess; a film that grabs your attention and keeps it till the very end. At the same it’s a movie that teases far more than it delivers. It’s one that alludes to thought-provoking issues rather than exploring them in a challenging way. Even worse, its shaky storytelling skips over too many details leaving us with too many questions. Oh, and it wraps up with a hilariously on-the-nose ending that undercuts any suspense the film had mustered so far.
Written by DaCosta, Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld, the film follows Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a hot-shot visual artist who’s struggling to find inspiration. He lives rent-free with his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) in her swanky new Chicago apartment. She’s a well-connected art gallery director who has always encouraged Anthony. But he’s in a funk and needs something to spark his creativity.
Anthony finds that elusive inspiration while researching the local urban legend of Candyman. See the 1992 movie for more details, but Candyman is said to be a supernatural killer in a trench-coat and with a meat-hook for a hand. Legend has it if you say his name five times in the mirror Candyman will appear in the reflection and kill whoever summoned him. (I’ve never fully understood those rules, but that’s fine).
Anthony visits the abandoned Cabrini Green projects which was terrorized by Candyman decades earlier. He runs into a neighborhood old-timer named William (the always good Colman Domingo) who shares his first-hand account with Candyman. Before you know it an obsessed Anthony is chanting Candyman’s name in the mirror, a fresh bee sting on his hand is festering, and gruesome deaths start popping up across the city.
From the film’s earliest scenes DaCosta shows off her knack for framing shots. She does some unique and clever things with the camera that does more to add tension than anything written into the story itself. At the same time, she seems to have an aversion to blood and gore. I mean we do get a chopped hand, there’s a particularly gnarly slit throat, and Anthony’s infected hand gets pretty nasty. But far too often DaCosta cuts away or zooms out from the action, even relying solely on sound in a couple of scenes. It will be a welcomed choice for weak stomachs and a disappointment for some genre fans.
Meanwhile the mostly fright-free story zips along, infusing the lore of first film with its own current-day perspective. It’s a great idea on the surface, but the story ends up needlessly convoluted and with gaping holes in its logic. And while it seems interested in meaningful topics such as race and gentrification, just referencing them isn’t the same as dealing with them. It’s one of several areas where “Candyman” shows promise but fails to deliver. “Candyman” opens in theaters Friday, August 27th.