Candyman is a horror film directed by Nia DeCosta and written by DeCosta with Jordan Peele & Win Rosenfield. It is distributed by Universal Pictures and produced by Peele & Rosenfield under their Monkeypaw Productions banner. Artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) live in the neighborhood of Cabrini Green, where Anthony is struggling to reignite his art career. While exploring Cabrini Green, Anthony encounters William Burke (Colman Domingo) who tells him the legend of the Candyman: a spirit who is summoned by saying his name five times in a mirror. Anthony uses the legend of the Candyman to craft a series of macabre paintings, which leads to a string of grisly murders and the terrifying truth that the legend may be steeped in fact…
The major draw about this movie, other than the fact that it’s directly tied to the original 1992 film in more ways than one, is the fact that the filmmakers have recontextualized the legend of the Candyman. The biggest criticism about the original film was that it fell into the white savior trope by centering around grad student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) who started investigating Cabrini Green as part of her research on urban legends; the fact that most of the victims in the original film were Black hasn’t aged well. DaCosta, Peele, and Rosenfield flip the script by using the legend as a metaphor for the trauma that has haunted Black people throughout the years. “Candyman’s how we deal with the fact that these things happened!” Burke tells Anthony in a heated speech early in the film. “That they’re STILL happening!”
This dialogue becomes horrifyingly prophetic, as legend and fact intertwine throughout the film’s runtime. Candyman isn’t just Daniel Robitaille, the gifted artist who was tortured and murdered for impregnating a White woman; he is also Sherman Fields, a man who was wrongly accused of slipping razor blades into the candy he handed to children in Cabrini Green. And the legend even grows to accompany Helen, playing off the ending of the original film. DaCosta understands that myth has the power to inspire and intimidate and uses it as the backbone for her film; the multiple takes on the legend are depicted via a series of shadow puppet shows, which are mesmerizing and menacing in equal measure. And although the film is a little over the 90-minute mark, DaCosta knows how to build tension-slowly ratcheting up the dread as Anthony descends into madness and the bodies pile up.
That descent is embraced by Mateen, who wears many hats throughout the film and wears them well. Mateen is probably best known for his turn as the Black Manta in Aquaman or portraying the godlike Dr. Manhattan in HBO’s Watchmen, so he’s no stranger to genre fare; however, this is the first time he’s taken center stage. And he shows that he is definitely leading man material; his turn from the classic “struggling artist” to a man barely clinging on to his sanity” is a thing to behold. Visually, DaCosta also depicts his journey via injuries to his right hand. A bee stings Anthony early in the film, which grows into a festering scab that resembles the darkness creeping into his life; later, he cuts himself and has to wrap his hand in a cloth, which curves it into the shape of a hook.
The supporting cast also brings their A-game to the proceedings, especially Parris and Domingo. Parris and Mateen have an intense chemistry that lends itself very well to their characters’ relationship; said chemistry takes a dark turn as Brianna tries to save Anthony with little success. Domingo’s Burke has quite a surprising connection to the Candyman legend that I never saw coming but winds up feeding into the film’s theme of stories and how they influence others. And a shout-out has to go to Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as Brianna’s brother Troy, who brings much-needed levity to the proceedings and utters one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard in a horror movie: “Black people don’t need to be summoning shit.” Fans of the original film will also want to keep their eyes open for a few well-placed cameos, especially during the closing scene.
Candyman is a chilling yet thoughtful examination of the power that stories can hold and a truly worthy sequel to the original film. Horror aficionados, as well as fans of Peele’s previous work, will definitely want to add it to their watch lists. I feel like this film will definitely be a staple in Halloween movie marathons, and I’m more than eager to see DaCosta and Parris reunite for The Marvels next year.
Candyman will premiere nationwide in theaters on August 27, 2021.
Candyman is a chilling yet thoughtful examination of the power that stories can hold and a truly worthy sequel to the original film. Horror aficionados, as well as fans of Peele’s previous work, will definitely want to add it to their watch lists.
Collier “CJ” Jennings is a freelance reporter and film critic living in Seattle. He uses his love of comics and film/TV to craft reviews and essays on genre projects. He is also a host on Into the Spider-Cast.