CANDYMAN **** USA 2021 Dir: Nia DaCosta. 91 mins
In two lazy sequels to Bernard Rose’s iconic 1992 CANDYMAN, Tony Todd’s extraordinary presence was wasted, the concept cheapened by lame jump scares in FAREWELL TO THE FLESH and taken into slapdash slasher territory for DAY OF THE DEAD. Todd and Clive Barker’s original short story “The Forbidden” now have a truly worthy 21st century successor in the form of co-writer / director Nia DaCosta’s 2021 CANDYMAN. With the creative input of producer Jordan Peele, DaCosta sets the tone by introducing a rather different “Candyman” than the one we might be expecting: a 1970s Cabrini Green outcast with a hook for a hand and a (rumoured) tendency to menace kids with razor-lined confectionery.
Exposition related to the original film is beautifully conveyed via shadow puppetry – and by a familiar voiceover later on. Virginia Madsen’s 1992 heroine Helen Lyle is now the one whispered about in classrooms, someone who snapped and committed the murders we attributed to “Candyman”. The stuff of urban legend. Cabrini Green as we knew it has gone. The housing created by white people for disenfranchised black people ended up creating a dangerous ghetto and was demolished in between films. Its gentrified 2021 incarnation, however, is haunted by the legacy of Helen and “Candyman”. Tortured artist Yahya Abdul-Mateen II becomes obsessed with the subject, just as Helen did, but this time, she is a key part of his research and his ultimate connection to past events becomes a very personal one that also revives a character from the Rose movie.
CANDYMAN 2021 delivers chills and gore, but not in the way we might expect from a contemporary Hollywood horror. The expected kills are often cleverly captured in aftermath or via reflections, or just out of sight. A spectacularly visualised gallery slaughter paves the way for creatively realised set pieces – with a prep school bathroom massacre conveyed via glimpses of mayhem in a dropped compact mirror, while a bullied black girl cowers in a toilet, ‘BLM’ patch visible on her bag. DaCosta excels at sustaining an ambience of grave unease, channeling Cronenbergian body horror as the story tracks the gruesome impact of a bee sting.
The strongest element of this smart, reverential sequel only becomes apparent in the final act, when one of modern horror’s most evocative stories becomes a film about the importance of storytelling itself. Ultimately, Nia DaCosta’s CANDYMAN isn’t just about Tony Todd’s established “Candyman” / Daniel Robitaille. It’s about generations of the persecuted, the disenfranchised, the fallen black men who need to be remembered for any kind of progress to be made. The devastating last line of the film confirms this need for telling the tales, for whispering in classrooms about real and fictional “Candyman” figures. For Rodney King, severely beaten by the L.A.P.D. in March 1991. For George Floyd, killed by a police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020, a month before this film’s originally intended theatrical release. For (tragically but inevitably) more as yet unknown black men to come.
Review by Steven West