Moviegoer: Candyman

A classic tale gets some updated lore in this smart horror movie 

By Diana Beechener 

Let’s see if I can review this without mentioning that name five times… 

Artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II: The Trial of the Chicago 7) got a lot of buzz straight out of grad school. His work was featured in big shows, he earned a lot of great press, and was named the newest star of the art world.  

A few years later, Anthony can’t seem to create anything that generates the same reaction. His gallery-curator girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris: WandaVision) supports him, but he keeps making the same painting over and over. Hopeful to get out of his funk, Anthony goes on a walk in his new neighborhood, Chicago’s Cabrini–Green, taking pictures of the gentrification. When he comes across menacing graffiti discussing Candyman, Anthony is intrigued. 

The graffiti refers to a “boogie man” created when a man was unjustly killed by the police. His murder created a vengeful spirit who appears when his name is called five times while looking at a reflective surface. Once you call him, the blood flows.  

Immediately enamored by the lore and inspired by the concept, Anthony finally has some original ideas. He’s so excited, he drags Brianna in the room before performing the summoning ritual. Anthony’s finally painting again, but he’s unleashed something horrible.  

Can Anthony undo the curse? Or are some wounds too ancient to heal?  

Beautifully shot and featuring some striking gore and sound design, Candyman is a timely and thrilling update of the 1992 original. Director Nia DaCosta (Little Woods) finds an innovative way to approach the well-known tale. While the original movie was a terrifying, but fairly straight-forward gory horror treat, DaCosta takes a slightly more avant-garde approach. The most impressive update is the use of shadow puppets to offer the audience exposition that doesn’t seem forced and arresting to watch. DaCosta also likes to play with sound, wringing tension out of footfalls and the hissing rush of rain. The result doesn’t bring as many outright scares as the first film, but does create a moody, engrossing fairytale filled with subtle chills.  

DaCosta, with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld, updated the Clive Barker story to be a tale of generational pain and how communities inherit the hurts of the past. There isn’t just one Candyman in the film—the avenging spirit is created every time the community experiences a grave injustice that isn’t answered. The result is the idea that the community is doomed to be haunted, the sins of the past creating an environment where sins can thrive in the future.  

It’s a fascinating concept, and one that adds some nuance and layers to the lore created by the first film.  

The performances are also impressive. Abdul-Mateen II is mesmerizing as a man who may be trapped by fate. The film parallels his journey to that of Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) in the first movie. His obsessive quest to understand Candyman makes him a part of the lore, not just the storyteller.  

Though the film is innovative and filled with some great scares, there are still some chips in the mirror. DaCosta tries to do too much in her short running time, cramming unnecessary backstories into the film. Instead of informing her thesis, it muddles the plot, distracting from the main action. There’s also some dialogue that feels as if it’s taken from a textbook instead of conversational discussion, but thankfully Parris and Abdul-Mateen II make quick work of it.  

If you’re a fan of the original Candyman, this movie is well worth a look. It’s a worthy successor to the first film, and branches off into some interesting ideas. It’s not quite the scarefest of the original, but it gives you plenty to think about and discuss.  

But please, don’t go invoking demons in the mirror when you get home.  And for those of you keeping track, I said the name six times, let’s hope I’m around for a review next week… 

Good Horror * R * 91 mins.