Review: ‘Candyman’ updates the mythos of a classic urban legend slasher, with uneven (but mostly good) results

I make no bones about this fact: 1992’s Candyman and its 1995 follow up Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh are movies that shook me to my core as a child. I originally saw them back to back while alone in the dark, and let’s say that that had a formative effect on me. Short version: I was a horror wuss.

Fast forward to today, and I consume a great deal of horror as I think it’s one of the most creative spaces in filmmaking. However, the thought of a new Candyman film had me a little on edge thanks to some deep-seated memories. So now that I have had a chance to watch it, does it hold up to the original? Yes! Well, mostly!

It has been nearly 30 years since the original film and the Chicago project of Cabrini-Green has been gentrified. A hot young artist called Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) lives in a swanky condo with his partner, Brianna (Teyonah Parris), who also happens to work for an art dealer. While looking for inspiration in the city, Anthony stumbles across the urban legend of Candyman, told to him by a kindly laundromat owner called William (Colman Domingo). As with Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), the original film’s protagonist, he slowly but surely becomes obsessed with the legend, and the man himself seems to begin to follow him around.

The film has a lot on its mind, from gentrification to the inequality of policing, and directly ties the myth and purpose of Candyman himself to the conversation of race in America. I’m being deliberately vague because I think you should see this movie for yourself, but this is both the strength of the film and, in another way, its weakness: at just 91 minutes in length, it doesn’t feel like everything director and co-writer Nia DaCosta, and co-writer Jordan Peele wanted to say made it into the final film, and it moves at such a pace that sometimes the why of things happening in a given scene are a little bit lost (even if the why of things in the movie is relatively clear).

Michael Hargrove as Sherman Fields in Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta.

However, there is a lot to love in this movie. Abdul-Mateen proves once again that he is a captivating leading man with a dynamic and interesting screen presence. As his obsession slowly takes him over, this body language shifts and moves in such a way that even in scenes without dialogue or where he’s playing mostly against himself, he is utterly compelling. Teyonah Parris has to do most of the film’s big emoting, as the one who finds bodies and effectively becomes the protagonist through the last few minutes of the film. She manages to get right up to the edge but not go over the top in exactly the way the film needs.

Nia DaCosta proves herself a force to be reckoned with too, with this being only her second feature, she makes a lot of interesting choices when it comes to camera work especially, casting the camera from angles that re-enforce that these characters are still at the bottom of the food chain despite their status in the world, and by using long takes to build tension in ways that don’t feel gimmicky, while at the same time her updates to the story push its symbolism explicitly into the real world and also expands the lore in ways that will open up doors to more films and storytelling.

I do have one quibble, though (and to be fair, this is entirely a personal thing): I didn’t actually find it scary. Unsettling? Unnerving? Thought-provoking? All yes. Scary? No, and one scene that should be scary actually just felt really out of place in the film. You’ll know it when you see it.

I don’t know that Candyman is the equal of the original film, but it is the best sequel the franchise has had to date, and between the performances and the direction, there is definitely something here for you.

Candyman is in theatres now.


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