The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - CANDYMAN | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema] - CANDYMAN

candyman 2021 review
An artist finds inspiration in an urban legend.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Nia DaCosta

Starring: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Vanessa Williams

candyman 2021 poster

The fictional urban legend introduced in Bernard Rose's 1992 Clive Barker adaptation Candyman has outlived the movie itself. In the grand scheme of things, relatively few people have seen Rose's film, but a lot more are familiar with the urban legend it spawned.

Say Candyman's name five times into a mirror and you'll be visited by the hook-handed spirit of Daniel Robitaille, an African-American portrait painter murdered by an angry mob in 1890 after falling for the daughter of a white society figure. Accompanied by a swarm of bees, Robitaille, aka Candyman, will either kill you straight away or decide to have some fun with you, usually in the form of committing murders for which you inevitably take the blame.

candyman 2021 review

While almost everyone in the real world has heard of Candyman, in the world of the films his legend is kept secret. Even in our internet age, the protagonist of Nia DaCosta's Candyman has never heard of Candyman, despite living in the very neighbourhood where Robitaille was murdered, and where Helen Lyle, the Virginia Madsen essayed heroine of Rose's film, suffered a grisly fate.

In the original, Rose transplanted the story from a Liverpool council estate to Cabrini Green, a crime-ridden ghetto in Chicago. In DaCosta's sequel - which, like 2018's Halloween, ignores the events of previous sequels - Cabrini Green has been gentrified, now populated by the sort of hipsters who wear turned up jeans and woolly dockworker hats.

Hipsters like Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an artist whose girlfriend, gallery director Brianna (Teyonah Parris), has been paying the rent on their plush apartment while he struggles for "inspiration".

Anthony finds said inspiration when he learns of the legend of Candyman. When he dares to invoke Candyman's name five times, nothing initially appears to happen, but he does get a nasty bee-sting on his hand. But when those around Anthony begin to die grisly deaths, he begins to realise that he has indeed summoned the hook-handed horror.

candyman 2021 review

DaCosta's film may ditch the expanded lore of the two '90s sequels, but it's oddly indebted to the lowest point of the series, 1999's made for HBO Candyman: Day of the Dead. Like that awful movie, it's set in the milieu of the art world. As with Donna D'Errico's heroine of that film, Anthony finds his work prospering from his connection to Candyman. Here this manifests itself in similar fashion to Sean Byrne's 2016 film The Devil's Candy, with Anthony's art taking on an increasingly macabre tone.

For the most part, DaCosta does a fine job of creating atmosphere. Like Rose, she employs slow zooms and dwarfs her protagonists in the concrete high-rise landscape of downtown Chicago. One of Candyman's kills is cleverly shot in a manner that echoes a shot from Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring. Elsewhere a Groucho Marx routine gets a horror spin. Robert A. A. Lowe's suitably brooding score takes its cues from Philip Glass's memorable work on Rose's film and its lesser yet passable 1995 sequel Farewell to the Flesh.

The trouble with this Candyman is that it can't quite decide what sort of a horror movie it wants to be. There's a heavy element of body-horror, with Anthony's bee-sting gradually spreading out to the rest of his body (somehow his girlfriend doesn't notice such a drastic change). In moments the film pauses its broody atmosphere to briefly turn into a cheesy '90s teen-horror as high schoolers find themselves butchered by Candyman. Such moments feel like they belong in a very different film to the largely high-minded and scaled back chiller DaCosta crafts for the most part.

candyman 2021 review

But the real elephant in the room is Candyman, or rather the lack thereof. The lore of Candyman is reworked in a way that would have worked fine if this were a complete reset, but which leaves you scratching your head as to how it dovetails with the '92 original. Given what we learn here, Helen Lyle's experiences with Candyman in the first movie don't make much sense. Tony Todd's imposing presence is greatly missed, as the iteration of Candyman presented here for the most part just isn't daunting enough. Rather than fear this Candyman, we simply feel sorry for him. With Todd's Candyman, Rose managed to pull off the feat of giving us a horror villain who was both sympathetic and scary, tragic yet threatening. Todd's Candyman misplaced his rage, targeting the innocent, while the version here never targets anyone we care about - his victims are either cartoonish art scene stereotypes, equally cardboard high school kids or crooked cops.

After...erm, hooking us in with some nice atmosphere and what initially seems like an interesting take on the Candyman lore, DaCosta's film falls apart in its final act. As in her co-writer and producer Jordan Peele's Get Out, it climaxes with a protagonist tied to a chair while another character crudely explains the plot like a Bond villain. It feels as though 10 minutes of story have been skipped to get to that point. Earlier on, a major plothole disrupts the narrative concerning a character learning something about themselves that they couldn't possibly have avoided for all these years. It does conclude with a clever switcheroo borrowed from the most recent Texas Chain Saw reboot, and a brief glimpse of the Candyman that might have been.

Candyman is in UK/ROI cinemas from August 27th.

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