Jordan Peele tells a very specific kind of horror story. No matter what he’s tackling, he does it with an eye towards what plagues society. Here, in co-writing and producing a new Candyman, you can see a lot of what interests him. At the same time, it’s not hard to figure out why he opted against directing. Candyman has limits, so while there are elements elevated by his presence (as well as Nia DaCosta in the director’s chair), other aspects of the film are thoroughly mediocre. In trying to both take the best of the franchise’s earlier entries, as well as blaze a new path, it winds up just kind of being a muddle. A dumb slasher flick with a fancy coat of paint is still just a dumb slasher flick in the end.
Candyman is a a sequel, as opposed to a remake, but does toe the line between the two. Truly, it feels like a legacyquel (coined by colleague Matt Singer) at its core. Largely ignoring the sequels, but referencing the plot of the first film, this tries to go in a new direction. You’ll clearly know that it’s a part of the Candyman series, but it does stand out. That being said, it’s arguably far less satisfying than the first one, or the sillier sequel Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (the less said about Candyman: Day of the Dead, the better). Its more elevated moments are compelling, but they don’t mix well with the rote horror ones, or the stupidity of some of the characters. Overall, we have a mess here, one that can’t fully satisfy.
After an opening sequence set in the Cabrini Green housing projects during the 1970s, things fast-forward to today. The buildings are now luxury apartments, with artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) living in one unit with his girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris). When Brianna’s brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) tells the couple a scary story one night, he regales them with the tale of Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen in the original), Cabrini’s sordid past, and of course, the Candyman (Tony Todd). Dismissed as a story, Anthony does get inspired to do some research, hoping it helps with an upcoming art exhibition.
Poking around in Cabrini’s past, he runs into an old-timer named William Burke (Colman Domingo), who used to live in the buildings. Telling Anthony more about Candyman, aka Daniel Robitaille, he ends up making a role range of paintings about him. He also presents a mirror with the instructions to say his name five times. Of course, we know that those who say it see him, only to be killed. Anthony, as well as a whole host of victims, are about to find that out. To say more about the plot would spoil things, but it doesn’t necessarily go in the direction you’d expect. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, well, that’ll come down to personal taste.
Credit to Yahya Abdul-Mateen II for giving his all to this leading role. The whole cast does, and it’s great to see Tony Todd again in this iconic role, but Abdul-Mateen II shines. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett does provide some needed comic relief, but Teyonah Parris is under-utilized. Largely, the cast doesn’t get enough to do, outside of Abdul-Mateen II. He’s asked to do a lot, both emotionally and physically, but he’s more than up to it. Rounding out the cast are Kyle Kaminsky, Vanessa Williams, and more.
Filmmaker Nia DaCosta, along with Peele and co-writer Win Rosenfeld, treats this as anything but a cash grab. Her directing takes risks, including some interesting choices with the kills. There’s a visual style on display here. It’s no wonder Marvel scooped her up. However, when things get silly, she, along with Peele and Rosenfeld, seem unsure how to handle it. They’re more at home with the social commentary and anger at how society has treated African-Americans, especially poor ones, than with the genre stuff. It’s admirable that they infuse that into a slasher flick, but it still doesn’t quite mix as well as they’d hoped. DaCosta’s directing career is certainly one to watch out for, that’s for sure.
Candyman has highs and lows. However, the best moment still comes during the credits, where we see the puppets from the beloved trailer. That bit remains genius. Everything else is a mixed bag. For every bit that’s clever, like how it ties into the original, there’s at least one bit that leaves your frustrated or scratching your head. Frankly, it’s worth seeing, but it’s not a good film, per-say. It’s a flawed movie with intriguing aspects, and you’ll have to decide if that’s worth venturing out to the theater for. Just be sure not to say you-know-who’s name too many times…