Recent years have brought about an emergence of revitalizing old horror properties as pseudo-sequels, from Halloween (2018) to Spiral (2021) to the new SyFy series Chucky (2021). Another recent trend in the horror genre, and a thematic element that has unfortunately been poorly overlooked prior, is the inclusion of themes surrounding the African American experience, with movies like Get Out (2017), Us (2019), and Antebellum (2020) being among the few leading the charge. With both these trends rising in the horror genre, it was only a matter of time for the 1992-1999 Candyman films to get a modern take. With Little Woods (2018) director Nia DaCosta teaming up with Jordan Peele (famous in the horror scene for the aforementioned Get Out and Us) and Win Rosenfeld (executive producer of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (2018)) to produce and write the screenplay for this film, I was really excited for this new take on Candyman. Thankfully, Candyman (2021) does not disappoint as it is a fantastic horror film.
The Candyman legend plagued the urban housing area Chicago, known as Cabrini-Green, for as long as the residents can remember. After the last victims to the Candyman story 27 years ago (the original Candyman (1992)), the neighborhood has become gentrified by the vast influx of artists to the area, and the threat of Candyman had become nothing more than a myth. Struggling to find originality within his own art and remain relevant to the Chicago art scene, Anthony McCoy (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) seeks out stories of pre-gentrification Cabrini-Green to inspire his next work. After a fateful encounter with long time resident William Burke (played by Colman Domingo), Anthony finds himself in a collision course with the legend as he quickly dissolves into insanity as his artwork encourages the masses to say his name five times.
What makes this sequel to the 1992 original so great, is the same thing that has made the past two Jordan Peele projects so great: the incredible relevance to modern times, or rather, the relevance to what is finally being brought to the forefront in the public eye. The Candyman franchise has always been politically charged series of films, but for me, the original three Candyman films all fell short on its themes in order to play it safe in the horror/slasher genre. Candyman (2021) does not play it safe, with heavy themes of gentrification, exploitation of African American communities, and police discrimination (just to name a few of the themes touched on). While having Jordan Peele’s contribution to the screenplay and as a producer is definitely a big reason for this shift in thematic quality for the franchise, the main praise for this film should go to writer, producer, and director of the film Nia DaCosta. DaCosta’s directorial sensibilities elevated not only this script, but this franchise as a whole, by effortlessly weaving suspense, slasher and psychological horror, and political commentary into a single cohesive work that plays wonderfully to audiences without coming off as overtly preachy or campy.
The major complaint I have with this film, however, is how telegraphed some of the kills and outcomes for various characters were. While the mains leads and supporting actors (Abdul-Mateen, Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) were great in their roles, a lot of the auxiliary actors were either given really awful lines of dialogue or were just over the top with their performances. Almost any time a character showed up and their lines were cringe inducing, I would guess that they would be the next victims, and sure enough, five minutes later they were out of the picture. While some of these characters were definitely meant to come off this way for the effect DaCosta was aiming for with her themes, the easily predictable nature of kills made the stakes in the film decrease for me, and overall, made me less on-the-edge-of-my-seat than I should have been.
Overall, Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is one of 2021’s great horror movies. From great lead performances, to fantastic modern themes, to great slasher horror moments, this film has a lot of great elements that will keep you entertained. If you are looking for a horror film this week to prepare for Halloween, this is definitely one I would suggest.
Candyman (2021) is rated R for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references.
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