Directed by Nia DaCosta
Starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Tony Todd, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Vanessa Williams, Cassie Kramer, Rebecca Spence, Kyle Kaminsky, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Cedric Mays, Christiana Clark, Brian King, Pamela Jones, Miriam Moss, Mark Montgomery, Genesis Denise Hale, Rodney L Jones III, Hannah Love Jones, Heidi Grace Engerman, and Virginia Madsen
Anthony and his partner move into a loft in the now gentrified Cabrini. After a chance encounter with an old-timer exposes Anthony to the true story behind Candyman, he unknowingly opens a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence.
Touted as a spiritual successor to the original Candyman, Nia DaCosta’s nearly 30 years later sequel is much more connected to those events than one might be led to believe, but disarmingly, the film doesn’t open up in modern-day or 1992 Chicago, instead the 1970s look of the Cabrini Green housing complex. By doing so, it’s a reminder that the story we have come to know (as far as I know, the other sequels are largely ignored when it comes to the narrative here) is only a blip when it comes to the legend of his killings.
A young boy enters a bathroom where soon after, the one-handed hook-wielding slasher emerges from the hole offering candy. The boy shrieks out in terror, naturally freaked out, but is not attached or touched. He takes the treats and, free to go, retreats up the stairwell. However, it’s too late; the local police force (comprised of white people perpetually playing extra attention to a place like Cabrini Green) storm the building, don’t ask any questions even as they are grabbing the boy they presume to be in danger, and well, I’m guessing you already know what happens next based on the way this is going. Despite the similar appearance, the man is not Daniel Robitaille (the Candyman legend unearthed by Virginia Madsen’s college grad student Helen Lyle in the first film), but someone law enforcement believes to be planting razor blades inside of the wrappers. The razor blade killings don’t stop, implying that the police brutally murdered an innocent man.
The premise of Nia DaCosta’s vision (co-written alongside Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld, obviously taking inspiration from Bernard Rose’s terrific 1992 work based on a short story from Clive Barker and repurposed to focus on race relations and class in Chicago) is that there’s not just one Candyman. Perhaps even more tragically true, there will always be a Candyman as long as crimes against Black humanity are committed and go unchecked. Candyman is not just a person; it’s an idea tethered to the first time a young Black child discovers volatile hate crimes.
Our protagonist also happens to have his own experiences with the Candyman that he was too newborn to remember (it’s a move that feels as if it’s meant to be a significant plot reveal for anyone that hasn’t seen the original, so I won’t say too much about it, although there is so much going on here thematically that it doesn’t take away from the narrative at all possessing knowledge of his identity), artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II turning in a remarkable performance of compulsive obsession the more he digs into the legend, with both remote research and visiting the remnants of the area). Anthony is currently dating art director Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris, not given as much to do, which is strange given some have flashbacks she receives, indicating that there may be a great deal left on the cutting room floor). One night, they meet her brother Troy’s (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) new white boyfriend Grady (Kyle Kaminsky), with the former opting to tell a scary story following some gentrification discussion.
The story is not about Candyman, but Helen Lyle now talked about as a white woman who went crazy researching Cabrini Green urban legends (accomplished with stylistic black-and-white puppet animation alongside unsettling music from Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe). Just about every vital detail you think of from that movie has been twisted and turned on its head in the story recounted here, essentially talking about her as a lunatic that wanted to burn a baby alive. It pique’s Anthony’s interest, coming into contact with an older man named William Burke (Colman Domingo), that has information to share tied to Candyman. All of this proves to be an artistic inspiration for Anthony. He starts creating blunt and literal portraits of violence with instructions to stare into a mirror and “say his name” five times, which ends up on display in an upcoming gallery with hot-shot critics in attendance.
From here, the script trails off into multiple fascinating directions with Anthony disturbingly flattered that his own name was mentioned on television upon the discovery of sliced up bodies the following day in front of the exhibit (these sequences are also visually exhilarating making use of neon lighting, mirrors, and reflections to make out the violence). One could say he is becoming a Candyman in his own right, especially considering there’s a bee sting infection spreading in radius similarly the more detached from reality and obsessed with the legend he becomes. Effectively creepy, there are also moments where Anthony catches a glimpse of himself inside a reflection depicted as something monstrous and evil, with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II aptly expressing the duality that Jordan Peele went for with Us.
As both Anthony and his art become more dangerous (the outreach of the exhibit reaches some idiotic preppy teenagers making for a gruesome segment showing that the filmmakers that, while exploring high concept button-pushing issues, are still interested in letting the blood flow for entertainment purposes), there is an exploration of his identity, the cost of his success, a more comprehensive look at the Candyman legacy, and a third act eruption of violence that is sure to go down as one of the year’s best endings (even if there’s a small moment right before the carnage that stretches believability).
At a quick 90 minutes, there are admittedly moments where Candyman could be expanded upon (for as powerful as the film is in terms of themes, some characters are left a bit lacking and broad). It hits its provocative ideas one after the other, sure to spark dialogues surrounding the bloodshed. Some may not want to hear those topics brought up, and Nia DaCosta seems to have retort right inside the film when one character says, “they love our art, but they hate us.” It’s an observation that stings and swells just like one of the bees here, knowing full well people will decry the movie as allegedly having an agenda for exploring current events (even though its predecessor also did). What matters is that, while Candyman isn’t perfect, or dare I say as tight as a joint directed by Jordan Peele, there’s still plenty to love about this piece of art and its creators.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com