Review: ‘Candyman’ 2021 (here strictly by your invocation)

Look closer.

Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is an artist on the hunt for fresh inspiration while striving for recognition in Chicago’s art scene. When first hearing the urban legend of Candyman, the artist becomes driven, especially after a Cabrini Green resident (Colman Domingo) confirms stories going back over a century. Anthony’s girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) rightly worries when the new distraction tips into outright obsession… just about the time bodies begin turning up with connections to Anthony’s first Candyman-inspired exhibit. As each new victim is reported, new opportunities open up for both Anthony and Brianna even as blood is spilled. What was limited to just outside one’s peripheral vision soon begins to solidify… and the truth about who and what the Candyman is will be kept a secret no longer.

Nia DeCosta directs the Jordan Peele-produced rework of the 1992 original film spun from a story by Clive Barker. In the original, Virginia Madsen plays a research grad student looking in from the outside, accidentally summoning Candyman (Tony Todd) back to reality. As compelling as the film was for its time, its conceit is not being told by those it’s about: Chicago’s black urban community. As a direct sequel, the new film of the same name invokes not only the vengeful titular spirit but also the origins of the story itself, re-imagining its focal point by peeking through the under-explored cracks in the original. Can a $25 million horror film with barely a feature running time actually accomplish more than every version of it that came before?

From mood to setting to characterization, DeCosta wastes no time pushing her protagonist toward his impending and certain doom. Constructed as an ensemble piece with multiple points of view, there is a lot going on in each scene, yet it’s all juggled with ease. The one failing of this production is not having more screen time for the leads, but there’s too much story to tell and little time to fit it all in. As Candyman manifests, his visage becomes clearer, both in appearance and purpose. Early bits of humor fall by the wayside as the film winds down to everything the trailers promised, not just recreating myth but repurposing familiar elements into the stuff of legend. Amongst supernatural stalker peers like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers, Candyman stands elevated, re-envisioned as purposeful and necessary instead of a murdering opportunist.

One could dismiss 2021’s Candyman as just a reboot, remake, or another sequel, but Jordan Peele proves once again a master storyteller can both entertain and impart knowledge at the same time. Get Out leaned into comedic horror and Us never quite gelled together with so much going on. Candyman is ready-built for shining a spotlight on what too many still ignore today: marginalized people maintained as a disposable workforce and given as little as possible… until someone in power decides to take even those scraps away. All the original tropes are rebuilt and refocused into something ever-present, a compact version of all the lessons imparted from HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” in a slick package just over ninety minutes long.

Peele isn’t shy about front-loading his message into the stories he tells and bouncing them off of a waiting and willing (and growing more mainstream all the time) horror community. Forget the idea “all white people are bad” and consider why too many “good folks” overlook atrocities simply because they’re unaffected directly: “It’s none of my business.” The Boondock Saints summed this up succinctly as another kind of evil: the apathy of good men.

Why would anyone with a tarnished soul look into a mirror and invoke a malevolent spirit of vengeance? Because they don’t know what they don’t know, of course. The new Candyman doesn’t spare the gore but neither does it resist filmmaking art, crafting chilling deaths at a distance or just out of sight rather than make the victims (read: antagonists) more important than they are. It’s as if such people don’t really matter at all — cue the applause.

Candyman 2021 is rated R for bloody horror violence, language including some sexual references, and daring to provide backstory with stylized shadow puppets instead of reusing old footage.

Four skull recommendation out of four

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