Sweet and (Very) Sour Thrills
A reboot/sequel/update of a 1992 horror classic doesn’t exactly inspire you to say its name again
A reboot-sequel of 1992’s horror classic Candyman, starring Yahya AbdulMateen II and Teyonah Parris, doesn’t inspire you to say its name again.
�Be my victim. Sweets for the sweet.” For those who’ve seen it, the original Candyman
remains unforgettable (and for some, unforgivable). Memorably played by Tony Todd, this hook-handed villain is set up as the boogeyman of Chicago’s ill-fated Cabrini-Green projects, a specter stalking Chicago’s lower-class Black
community with as much
traumatic force as any of
the era’s social ills. Probably the least surprising thing about Nia DaCosta’s new take on this 1992 horror film is that it was produced and co-written by Jordan Peele, whose Get Out was cleverly marketed as a “social thriller” that knowingly put itself in conversation with older horror movies that tempered jump scares with satire. Those movies felt unique —until Get Out’s global success spurred a growing number of successors, a few of them written or produced by Peele himself.
What makes the new Candyman interesting, while dooming it to fail in some ways, is that its precursor was already uncomfortably wavering between a self-awareness over the optics of its premise (white researcher goes to the projects; sticks her foot in it; hell-arity ensues) and the high risk of repeating the mistakes of what it mocked. Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Brianna (Teyonah Parris) are a gorgeous, upwardly mobile Black couple living in a condo built on the ashes of what used to be CabriniGreen. He’s an ambitious artist in a creative rut; she’s a promising art-gallery director. They were doing just fine until her brother (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) tried to scare them with the story of the Candyman
— who isn’t real, of course. Until he is.
Candyman 2021 takes this jumble of ideas, from the art-world agita to the
Pet Sematary vibe of the gentrification angle, and pulls at the thread . . . and keeps pulling . . . until what emerges amounts to a fully fledged mess. That’s not because the ideas it brings to light aren’t worth reckoning with. The story focuses on what happens to Anthony after a visit to the old stomping grounds results in a bee sting. Soon, he begins to morph into something he’d rather not be — or maybe expose who he already is.
It’s quite a rabbit hole that this movie sends him down. There are some flickers of insight — namely, the idea that violence against Black people, such as the crime that created the Candyman in the first place, can hardly be limited to one man, to one spectacular incident. This Candyman updates its predecessor by moving us back into the realm of Black class issues, Black politics, and Black people, as opposed to showcasing everything through the skewed lens of a white woman’s “good” intentions. It’s a wise move, and telling that so much of what goes awry for Anthony begins with a piece of art that he makes: a mirror installation called “Say My Name,” in which guests are instructed to say the Candyman’s name five times.
If your response to the phrase “Say My Name” is to notice how uncomfortably close it is to the activist slogans of the past two years and public outcries over police violence, you’re not alone: The movie is one step ahead of you. Candyman’s failure isn’t in its ambition; it’s in the outcome. The scenes overstuffed with ideas compete for screen time with genre-necessary carnage. (See: A bathroom slaughter late in the movie happens, involving utter non-characters, and nothing is made of it.) The movie goes for broke in its final scenes, relentlessly driving home its prevailing bigger-picture points. But it’s a hard case to make when the points being made felt doomed from the start.