Candyman is playing in cinemas now.
The original Candyman was surprisingly different from the crop of 1990s horror; it was a slasher with a socio-political underbelly that felt prophetic of the horror we watch today. It also created one of the only prolific Black horror icons to date, with the hauntingly unsettling Tony Todd searing the character into horror history. There was great potential for a Candyman franchise under the right creative direction, but middling-to-awful sequels ensured it remained buried until Nia DaCosta and Jordan Peele dug it up.
Jordan Peele may have produced and helped to pen the new Candyman script, but this is Nia DaCosta’s film. DaCosta brings both old and new fans together with her creative amalgamation of a reboot and continuation. If you have seen the original, intentional narrative markers and delicate tonal shifts seem off, as though misremembered or perhaps knowingly changed. If you haven’t seen the original, you will feel much like Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) as he simultaneously rummages through a complicated and perhaps misleading history, learning and unlearning. Here, DaCosta plays with the notion of the urban legend and its ability to morph into something new over time through omissions or additions.
DaCosta picked some of the strongest players in Hollywood for her retelling, from Yahya Abdul-Mateen II to Teyonah Parris and Colman Domingo; it’s an insanely talented cast. Here, DaCosta weaves the lives of these characters together into a strangely poetic tapestry, linking them through a collective trauma. It’s almost as though both Domingo and Parris represent two sides of a coin, with Yahya’s Anthony trapped in the middle, torn from either side. Domingo and Mateen II’s relationship is particularly mysterious, a puzzle that gradually unlocks itself as we push further in.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a slasher without the guts and the gore, and Candyman is certainly graphic. People are suspended in mid-air, their throats torn open with waterfalls of blood. It’s brutally visceral but precisely so – the violence never feels gratuitous, the horror coming from the complex use of sound and visuals. Here, what’s heard but not seen is often far scarier as your brain attempts to fill in the gaps. When you hear the sound of Candyman’s hook gutting and skinning high-school students, you are left to imagine how horrifying it is. DaCosta knows how to play with the imagination and uses this skill to raise your heartbeat at every opportunity.
But, aside from the horror, Candyman is also surprisingly self-aware. Pretty much every non-white person in Candyman knows not to fuck with the summoning nor to go into dark basements, while white people are more than happy to engage. It’s a great subversion of many classic horror tropes based on racial prejudice. But in the exploration of Police oppression and racism in Cabrini Green, DaCosta takes a far more terrifying turn. There are multiple moments where you actually feel more terrified of the looming police presence than the Candyman himself as DaCosta uncovers the true monsters and reclaims The Candyman through a socio-political lens.
If anyone was unsure about Nia DaCosta’s directing talents before Candyman, this film puts those doubts to bed. Not only does she resurrect the horror of Candyman by building on the original, but she adds her own creative spark to the Candyman legend by delving further into the socio-political themes present. The result is a brilliant love letter to the original and a continuation with a clear, defined direction. It’s one of the strongest films of the year.