Updated: Jan 19
In contrast with the previous opinion piece on the pitfalls of modern horror tropes Candyman (2021) delivers on its promises. Those that have watched the original Candyman (1992) know that Tony Todd brought horror to life on the big screen covered in bees and a haunting message. The original story focused heavily on the origin of Candyman and the original crime, the brutal, racially motivated murder of a black man in the 1800s. A lynch mob unleashed on the land that is now the Chicago housing project, Cabrini Green, to punish him for loving a rich white woman whose portrait he had been hired to paint. The brutality and unjustified nature of this murder leaves a stain on the land causing Candyman to be created, seeking to instill fear in the residents of said land.
From the opening credits we are left disoriented by the backwards studio logos, upside down shots of Chicago, and unsettling music. This sets the viewer up to feel discomfort right out of the gate, something a lot of modern horror movies have missed. This sensory attack left me feeling heightened anxiety before the story had even begun.
The new installment in the Candyman franchise takes this legend and expands on it in ways that are perfect social commentary in spite of the recent conversations surrounding Black Lives Matter and heinous police killings of black and brown people. We then start the story with just that, an unwarranted brutal and deadly attack by police upon a man who hands candy out to children in Cabrini Green after a young white girl is killed. We then come to current times where the baby that is almost killed in the bonfire at the end of the original movie, Anthony McCoy, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, is now a full grown man living in a gentrified Cabrini Green. Anthony however believes he is from the Southside of Chicago and doesn’t know about his connection to Cabrini Green at the beginning of the movie.
This sets Anthony up for failure in the sense that once he hears the legend of Candyman from his girlfriend’s brother he experiences no hesitation to dive in and learn more. Not only does Anthony feel drawn to the legend but he feels compelled to research the area and use the legend as inspiration in his work for an upcoming art show he is meant to be featured in. His art piece invites viewers to look into a mirror and summon Candyman by saying “Candyman” five times. This art piece however falls short until the douchey gallery curator summons Candyman with his intern during some questionable foreplay. In this scene we get a taste of how Nia DaCosta is portraying Candyman visually, and it is absolutely stunning. We don’t actually SEE Candyman until the final scene of the movie but what we do see is the reflection of Candyman in well placed mirrors during scenes with which he punishes those who have foolishly summoned him.
The movie progresses in a natural way, with Anthony slowly becoming Candyman while more murders occur. Anthony’s hand starts to rot, his skin starting to become beehive-like as we reach the end of the movie. These stylistic decisions are original and caused my own skin to crawl as I watched Anthony get closer and closer to becoming Candyman. The movie reaches a fever pitch when Colman Domingo delivers us an amazing performance as the man whom we thought had been trying to help Anthony understand Candyman but is instead attempting to bring Candyman to life through Anthony. We learn that Candyman is a series of different people, invocations of the victims of racially motivated killings. Colman’s character, William Burke, abducts Brianna, Anthony’s girlfriend, and wants her to be his witness. He calls the police and pretends to have found Anthony and that he is the Candyman killer and tells them to proceed to their location to stop him. William intends for her to witness him complete Anthony’s transformation into Candyman and be able to prove his story. William proceeds to cut off Anthony’s arm in a gruesome scene and shove the Candyman hook into his severed arm. The decision to have Anthony motionless and still with an expression of pain and a single tear rolling down his cheek is more horrifying and haunting than any scream filled torture scene I have seen.
We continue to wrap things up but reach a pivotal moment where Anthony is lying in Brianna’s arm after she has killed William by stabbing him in the head repeatedly. This scene is particularly chilling and heart wrenching; Brianna attempts to comfort Anthony and states that the cops are arriving and they will get him to a hospital. We cut to the shadow of a police officer, gun drawn, with police lights overlaid the shadow and hear multiple gunshots. Rather than show Anthony shot, which would have aired on the side of exploiting black trauma, DaCosta chooses to show Brianna realize that the police have just shot and killed Anthony and her revelation as she looks at her blood soaked hands.
The final scene entails Brianna being arrested and in the back seat of a cop car, the officer telling her that they will claim she was a co-conspirator of Anthony in the Candyman killings. Or she can help the cops cover up the unjustified killing of Anthony. Terrified and panicking Brianna’s face suddenly becomes very calm as realization sets in. She requests that the officer turn the rearview mirror so she can see herself and if he does that she’ll play along. He reluctantly agrees, and laughing slightly in utter disbelief as to where she’s found herself, she says Candyman five times. Candyman appears as Anthony and kills all of the officers. Rather than kill her he unlocks the car door and a voiceover comes on with the haunting message that Candyman is eternal and that Brianna is to tell everyone.
I absolutely loved this movie and left feeling unsettled, angry, betrayed, upset, and thoroughly pleased. I had gone in slightly hesitant feeling that the trailer had let far too much go but the acting, stylistic choices, and overall story made up for any spoilers in the story. Not only is the movie amazing but the social commentary throughout connects it to modern day racial struggles that the original touched on but didn’t explicitly focus on. Overall, I highly recommend any horror fan go out and see this movie while it is still in theaters, I know I’ll be purchasing a digital copy as soon as it’s released.
Recommend score: 9.5/10