‘Candyman’ Is So Much More Than a Horror Movie

Elevating a film that’s been crowned a cult classic is imaginably a tricky dance. Followers expect storytelling that’s creative and captivating while still relying on the core elements that made the original work so enchanting in the first place. And while not all filmmakers get it right, Nia DaCosta, alongside Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld, perform this two-step rather brilliantly in the new incarnation of Candyman. (Now playing in theaters.) 

It’s been nearly three decades since audiences were first introduced to the ghoulish figure, who in the original ’90s film takes form after being summoned by an inquisitive grad student. In director Bernard Rose’s version, the story begins with tales of the monstrous spirit that explains the havoc being inflicted on Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project. Years later, the devastation caused by the urban legend remains, but the true culprit of that destruction is up for debate.

DaCosta’s reimagining takes the exploration of class and race highlighted in the earlier film and dials it up several notches. With exquisite performances from Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, and Colman Domingo, we see that the monster of Cabrini-Green isn’t simply a shadowy figure yielding a hook, slashing the bodies of the men and women who say his name five times in a mirror. He is an embodiment of Black rage, manufactured by the ongoing gentrification and societal ills directed at Black people.

In 1961, James Baldwin said that to be a Black person in this country “is to be in a state of rage almost all of the time.” Rage isn’t a siloed feeling brought about by individual experiences, the iconic writer insisted; instead, it is a culmination of everything that Black people witness around them, “all of the time in the face of the most extraordinary and criminal indifference, indifference of most white people in this country, and their ignorance.”

Watching the 2021 version of Candyman felt like an embodiment of his words. Brianna Cartwright (Parris) and Anthony McCoy (Abdul-Mateen) are an attractive couple living in a swanky hi-rise just outside the now-demolished setting where the first film took place. The two are art lovers, with Brianna finding success as a gallery director as Anthony slowly finds his footing as an artist. The duo start off as couple goals, but soon we see that the artist’s work is suffering from a lack of inspiration. Oddly enough, it’s the story of Candyman, retold hilariously by Brianna’s brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), that gives Anthony the creative stroke of genius he’s been missing.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and director Nia DaCosta on setUniversal/ Everett Collection

Like most artistic works, its reception is solely up to the beholder. And in Anthony’s case, the predominantly white would-be purveyors of his “Say My Name” installation don’t exactly see its heart and soul. Frustration looms for the creator, as does the Candyman. As Anthony embarks on his own investigation into the legend with help from William (Domingo), a former Cabrini resident and Candyman orator of sorts, he learns that the tale he was told is far more nuanced and personal than he could imagine.

DaCosta uses the layering of Candyman to highlight injustice that is both overt and clandestine. While Black Lives Matter brought the issue of police brutality front and center, the ways in which Black people are sidelined in society goes beyond the obvious. More than a year after George Floyd was killed at the hands of the police, triggering a now waning surge of allyship and corporate promises, Candyman serves as a reminder that there is no reconciliation without truth and that even when moving forward, justified rage still lingers.

Tanya Christian is a writer and editor based in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @tanyaachristian.

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