Urban legends and horror movies, it remains an intriguing relationship. Because sometimes horror movies are based on real urban legends like The Ring or The Blair Witch Project . But then there are also films that make their own and end up in the collective memory. Candyman is one of them. The first 1992 film became a cult classic and now Nia DaCosta is bringing the legend to the present. And that has both advantages and disadvantages, but ultimately a huge impact.
The Ghost of Gentrification
The Cabrini-Green neighborhood in Chicago is a housing project with identical small houses and apartments where mainly black people live. In that neighborhood in the 1970s a man is wanted by the police. A boy who is going to do the laundry suddenly comes face to face with the suspect, nicknamed the Candyman. Almost 50 years later, the neighborhood has been partially transformed into a hip neighbourhood. The couple Anthony (Yayha Abdul-Mateen II, Watchmen ) and Brianna (Teyonah Parris, WandaVision ) now also live there in a luxurious apartment. So they are both doing well. Brianna is a curator and Anthony is a painter.
Anthony tries to find inspiration for another expo and finds it when he hears about (albeit white) Helen Lyle, her research into the Candyman and the link with Cabrini-Green. He immerses himself in it, also visiting the old parts of the neighborhood and meeting a man (Colman Domingo, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom , If Beale Street Could Talk ) who also heard of the legend at the time. Eventually, Anthony falls under the spell of Candyman and creates his own work of art that breathes new life into the legend, with all its consequences.
The Candyman can
I’m going to say it right away: I haven’t seen the original Candyman yet (let alone the sequels) but I did know about the legend: if you say Candyman 5 times in the mirror, the aforementioned man with a hook will kill you. But I didn’t know more about that first film and that’s really not necessary to understand this new version. The story is being revealed again as part of Anthony’s investigation. And that doesn’t happen through the classic flashbacks, but on the one hand told by Brianna’s brother and through recordings of Helen Lyle, the main character of the original (Virginia Madsen). These often go together with the paper-like animation that you could see in the trailer, which really makes for a nice result.
Sometimes the original film can feel like unnecessary baggage, but here it really adds a history and extra layer. It would also be a shame to completely omit those references to a cult classic. At the same time, it does have a number of drawbacks. As a good reviewer I went to look up the full story of the first film and it seems to me that you can guess where everything is going much sooner if you have seen the original. For me, that ignorance caused a violent surprise, which is probably less so.
Tale as old as time
I was a little less in touch with the art world in which Anthony and Brianna live, but it does show the difficulties of that world, especially for black artists. When the focus is on their relationship and their own life, it did just that little bit more for me. Sometimes I didn’t find the way the Candyman is summoned through the mirror as scary as it used to be. A similar scene in Paranormal Activity 2 has long given me nightmares. Here it sometimes happens in broad daylight, which took some of the tension away for me. Or I just thought too much about it. Because what follows is often disturbing and appropriately gory.
Candyman’s look is therefore very effective, especially if you know his original origin story. The make-up effects are especially commendable here. The fact that Candyman kills through mirrors and reflections does provide the tension that I missed before. Slowly but surely it also becomes clear to people without prior knowledge where the story is going. That’s where it gets a bit unexpected. Spoiler-free, let’s say it goes very dark quickly and the Candyman mythology gets horribly relevant. Nia DaCosta, just like producer Jordan Peele did with Us , doesn’t want to put down an ordinary slasher here. And that final message will certainly come in, although I may not have understood all the motives that led to it.
There is no doubt that the acting is good. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II continues to string together the top roles, as does Colman Domingo. Teyonah Parris also gets deserved attention here after some smaller roles. The chemistry between her and Mateen also turns out to be the heart of the film. I will definitely listen to the score by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe again. Ultimately, Candyman may not find the perfect balance between pure horror and wanting to be more, but that could also be due to the expectations created by the trailer. So go with an open mind and there will be something for everyone in this new version.