There’s a sequence in Candyman in a high school girls bathroom that plays like it belongs in a less meditative continuation of the franchise. While it’s certainly cleverly shot, the scene feels out of place with its bad sequel slasher vibe. It may well be the point of the tone that its filmmakers are satirically putting forth. After all, they jettison anything that transpired in the two inferior follow-ups to the 1992 original. That doesn’t mean the excursion works and it’s a nagging issue with the film as a whole. There’s no doubt that a lot of thought went into this melding of issues from racial discrimination to white privilege to gentrification to police brutality. What plagues it somewhat is that it seldom succeeds in getting under your skin.
Nearly 30 years ago, Bernard Rose’s Candyman (from a story by Clive Barker) shook up a tired horror genre filled with Freddy, Jason, and Michael sequels. There was gore to be had, but also plenty of subtext in its tale of the urban legend with a hook for a hand and a bevy of bees emanating from his torso. As the 1890s era tortured artist whose love for a Caucasian woman resulted in his own torture, Tony Todd created an iconic title character with more narrative meat on the bones than your typical weapon wielding terrorizer from that time. It was an arthouse movie and so is this (it’s even set in an arthouse for chunks).
This new version, as mentioned, serves as a direct restart. The Cabrini Green projects where part I was placed is no longer the notorious crime hub of Chicago. The gentrified and souped up property is now home to young and thriving professionals. This includes Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris). She’s an art gallery director and he’s a painter who’s stuck in a creative rut. Their collective work is contingent on the approval of the snooty types who make it their business to judge them (critics, gallery owners). One message seems clear – their assessment of an African-American artist’s work rises in their esteem if it’s more violent.
Anthony gets a burst of inspiration that is kickstarted by Brianna’s brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett). When he regales the couple and his boyfriend with the nearly forgotten account of the buzzy killer whose name shan’t be uttered five times in a mirror, it gets Anthony’s creative juices flowing. This leads him to investigate the crimes of Daniel Robitaille (Todd) and the crimes committed against him. Billy (Colman Domingo) is a longtime Cabrini tenant who is more than pleased to help with the backstory (he had his own dealings with Robitaille in the late 1970s). Anthony’s research results in a project that dares you to say Candyman’s name and await the consequences. This is when blood starts flowing.
Nia DaCosta directs her second feature with a screenwriting and production assist from Jordan Peele. The script incorporates the plot from 1992 with new twists. The primary one is that there’s not only one Candyman. We know this when Anthony’s past involvement in the saga is revealed and he begins showing symptoms of becoming him after a nasty bee sting. Side effects include often visually striking murders.
While DaCosta is just establishing her filmography, Peele is recognized for his melding of social issues with scare tactics (Get Out and Us are both superior examples of how to do it). In Candyman, there’s more of an appreciation for what it’s trying to do than what it ultimately accomplishes onscreen. Sort of like a painting that’s busy with ideas but there’s not enough time allotted for it to really hook you in. I admired the picture to a point though I left unconvinced the deeper dive was worth it.
**1/2 (out of four)