Who can take a blood bath
Sprinkle it with fear
Cover it with race and some commentary too
Oh, the Candyman can
The Candyman can
‘Cause he mixes horror well
And makes a reboot good
Director: Nia DaCosta
Release Date: August 27, 2020 (Theatrical)
If you didn’t know what you were getting into with a Jordan Peele produced/written adaptation directited by Nia DaCosta you haven’t been paying attention to the current state of horror at the moment, which is taking big swings at social issues through the metaphor of gore and fear. Candyman might be the most on-the-nose take on this trend of horror films but that’s in line with the franchise’s history of using the genre to comment on race, disparities, art, and vengeance. This new version of Candyman simply ratchets it up even more, in an engrossing horror film that’s far less subtle than the likes of Get Out, but also doesn’t need to be.
Candyman, despite the name being the same, is a direct sequel to the first film, acting much like Halloween did in rebooting the series without ditching its history. While the film does mess around with a few aspects it is clearly connected to the original movie. We meet artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who has just moved in with his girlfriend Teyonah (Brianna Cartwright) into a fancy apartment in the gentrified Chicago community of Cabrini-Green. It is here that Anthony learns of the legend of the Candyman (Tony Todd) and the woman who stopped him years ago. However, as his artwork starts reflecting his obsession, it appears that the Candyman is back.
The film plays with the very idea of Candyman, taking the fact that you must say his name, literally speak him into being, to parallel the dehumanization of African Americans throughout history. “Say his/her/their name,” has become a popular slogan in the current discussion on race to bring humanity to those who have been oppressed and murdered. Here the film uses Candyman to represent them, fantastically pivoting the character into a representation of the rage, fear, and fury behind the injustices afflicted upon the black community through America’s history and, more specifically, in cities where ghettos are rapidly gentrified, destroying African American communities as they are. Saying “Candyman” five times in a mirror gives literal life to the human personification of this struggle.
There are an insane amount of layers to the film as it unpacks not just racial injustice but the meaning of art and representation as well. In some incredibly meta moments it even appears to be playing with its own existence, making reference to its lack of subtlety in tying its themes to its slasher story. And why should we expect subtlety from a slasher? That’s the point. To make us uncomfortable. Candyman brings that slasher ethos to all its aspects, shoving things we don’t want to see onto the screen.
That doesn’t mean that social commentary is all the film has going for it. This is a fantastically well-constructed horror movie, with just the right amount of blood and gore to keep it in the slasher realm while still delivering a movie that scares more psychologically than through gallons of blood. There’s actual horror and tension here and some kills that are simply visually striking. Candyman is a legitimately scary movie.
The movie does struggle a bit in its third act, however. Its fantastically slow build-up comes crashing down in a bit of a rush as storylines are rushed through to get to the conclusion. The film’s themes and kills collide a bit too much in the end, resulting in a conclusion that gets a bit confusing as it tries to do a bit too much in too little time. Honestly, another 10-15 minutes spread throughout the movie would solve the problem instantly as the cascading twists and turns could have been better laid out. It would also give us more time with the fantastic cast, especially the returning Todd, who is even scarier in his elder years as he barely speaks throughout the film.
However, this doesn’t stop Candyman from being what might become a horror classic. The layers of commentary on top of what is a downright good slasher film make for a blending of two horror genres that works fantastically. The question becomes should there be a sequel? Slasher films are obviously no stranger to prolonged franchising, and Candyman itself is an example of it. However, the film stands so well on its own that bringing him back seems like it could lessen its impact. Of course, if the movie makes money then there’s no question we’ll be getting another.