Based upon a Clive Barker short story, the original ‘Candyman’ was released at an interesting point in horror film history.
The early '90s were a transitionary period for the genre: after the gore-soaked '80s slasher explosion, and just before horror went meta with the 1996 release of ‘Scream’. However, ‘Candyman’ stood out at the time by following the tradition of featuring social issues in the subtext beneath the nightmarish imagery, raising topics such as class disparity and racism. With that in mind, it is fitting that Jordan Peele, writer/director of such modern, socially aware horror classics as ‘Get Out’ and ‘Us’, helped bring ‘Candyman’ back to life, producing and co-writing with Director Nia DaCosta on her second feature film, in a masterful update that tackles the traumas still suffered by African Americans.
In this new ‘Candyman’, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a Black artist on the rise but scoffed at by white critics for using what they consider the ‘cliché’ subject of Black trauma. But, upon learning of the story of the original ‘Candyman’ protagonist, Helen Lyle, he digs deeper to discover the Candyman, a legend that has almost been erased and represents the erasure of Black history through gentrification – only one link to the original film, with many other links sure to surprise audiences.
Horror fans looking for gore will find little in this film to quench their bloodlust, but those few scenes of violence are artfully directed by Nia DaCosta. The best violent scenes use the camera as a witness from afar, from zooming out of an apartment window to capturing some details through mirrors, each revealing DaCosta’s artful eye. Mirrors are integral to the Candyman legend (say his name five times into a mirror and he will appear), and DaCosta uses those to catch audiences off guard, whether through peripheral figures or Abdul-Mateen’s distorted reflection. One incredible recurring image is a tracking shot of buildings and a cloudy sky, flipped upside-down to make it seem the buildings are growing from a fog, the ghosts of demolished Black neighbourhoods, a subtle image acting as a metaphor for generational trauma.
In lieu of traditional horror scares, the horrors of ‘Candyman’ are in the realm of reality, especially in shocking depictions of police brutality. One such scene features no violence, just a conversation, but it proves to be the most jaw-dropping and shocking in the film. It’s a strong scene and a testament to the film’s writing team, alongside other touches such as Peele’s gift of relieving tension with comedy – actress Teyonah Parris draws laughs with a single word in a quick shot that subtly mocks the horror cliché of dark basements.
There is so much that ‘Candyman’ does in its efficient 90-minute runtime. The short time means some things aren’t fully fleshed, like the backstory of Parris’ Brianna glimpsed in flashbacks, but the film still offers so much, warranting many repeat viewings to pore over. But thanks to the creative team’s chemistry, each viewing of ‘Candyman’ will be as sickly sweet as a bee’s honey.