It’s worth noting that Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is not a remake but a sequel to Bernard Rose’s 1992 version, which itself spawned two inferior sequels. Candyman is based on Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’, with the Liverpool setting swapped for Chicago’s Cabrini-Green public-housing project.
While Barker’s story explored the British class system, the feature film delved more deeply into racism and a divided society, presenting us with Tony Todd’s horror hall-of-fame portrayal of the urban legend known as Candyman. Say his name five times in front of a mirror and he comes to life, stalking you with a hook for a hand and a mouth full of bees. Candyman (2021) picks up re-establishing this legend three decades later, directly referencing Helen Lyle (Madsen) – a character from the first film – who urban legend says went mad after investigating Candyman.
The story intrigues artist/photographer Anthony McCoy (Abdul-Mateen II), living in a gentrified Cabrini with his art director girlfriend Brianna (Parris). His art depicts black suffering, occasionally bought or displayed by misunderstanding rich white people. His new interest spawns a creative awakening but leads to obsession, resulting in a radical transformation and danger for the people around him as he brings the urban legend of Candyman back to life. Cue some gory reckonings for some pretentious Chicago art enthusiasts and high school mean girls…
Whilst the film is a chronological continuation, today’s Candyman is essentially showing that things have not really changed. Under the scope of the Black Lives Matter movement and meta storytelling, the film could not be more timely - the injustices from centuries ago, decades ago, a few years ago are still happening today. Rather than just asking you to watch, it’s asking you to think, and talk, and keep these stories alive, literally telling the audience to ‘say my name’.
The Candyman is not just one person – it’s a collective subconscious of an estranged and oppressed community. The victim of gentrification, the victim of racism, the victim of a system that not only marginalises them but hopes to dispose of them in a cruel and indifferent way. Much like the Candyman himself, who is a direct response to this suffering, being summoned into an existence that cannot be ignored as long as people say his name (five times in front of a mirror, to be precise).
Whilst this message is powerful, it also muddies the waters of the film a little with a lot going on at the same time. Although it’s easy to laugh at some of the purposefully OTT characters, they occasionally seem almost too obvious (example: a racist cop). Exploring the history, existence and ‘purpose’ of the Candyman in relation to society whilst trying to give us an entertaining horror movie with creative kills and occasional jokes is a juggling act that doesn’t always work.
Nonetheless, it’s a bold sequel to, and retelling of, Candyman that will undoubtedly make people afraid of their mirrors again.
(Whilst it’s bad news for mirrors, it is good news for bees, who’ve had to wait 13 years since The Wicker Man remake to regain their horror street-cred...)
CANDYMAN is in cinemas from August 27th