27th Aug2021

‘Candyman (2021)’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Tony Todd, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Brian King, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Rebecca Spence, Kyle Kaminsky, Vanessa Estelle Williams | Written by Nia DaCosta, Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld | Directed by Nia DaCosta

Director Nia DaCosta and producer Jordan Peele resurrect the Candyman in this part-sequel, part-reboot of the 1992 cult classic. Taking several cues from the original film, it’s an intelligent and provocative horror, though straight-up slasher fans may be a little disappointed.

Bernard Rose’s 1992 film was an adaptation of a Clive Barker short story (The Forbidden), which cleverly relocated the action from London to Chicago. It also turned Tony Todd’s titular villain (hook for a hand, surrounded by bees, etc) into a terrifying figure of vengeful violence, who could be summoned by uttering his name five times while standing in front of a mirror.

The new film essentially treats the 1992 movie as a source of urban legend. Set in the now gentrified Cabrini-Green housing development in Chicago (the site of the original murders), it stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy, an aspiring Black artist who becomes obsessed with the Candyman legend and creates an art exhibition that showcases it, complete with a provocative and frankly irresponsible central set-piece with a mirror that has “Say his name” written on it.

Sure enough, the exhibit gets people talking about the hook-handed horror and soon he’s being summoned left, right and centre, whether it’s mean girl teenagers taking “the Candyman challenge” (they don’t call it that in the script, but they might as well have done) or haughty art industry insiders, some of whom deserve everything that’s coming to them. Meanwhile, Anthony’s art curator girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) becomes increasingly concerned for his well-being, not least because of a festering bee sting on his arm that seems to be spreading up his body.

The performances are superb. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II gives a convincing portrayal of Anthony’s downward spiral into obsession and madness, while Teyonah Parris is wonderful as Brianna, whose point of view is probably closest to that of the audience – i.e. she doesn’t really believe in the you-know-what, but she’s not about to say his name five times in the mirror either, just in case.

There’s also strong support from Britain’s Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Misfits) as Brianna’s gay brother, while the ever-reliable Colman Domingo is on typically brilliant form as a local expert on the murders. On top of that, DaCosta finds room for three cameos from the 1992 movie: Virginia Madsen (as the voice of original researcher Helen), Vanessa A. Williams (also reprising her character from the first film) and Tony Todd himself, although fans expecting anything more than a few seconds of screentime from him may consider themselves short-changed in the Todd department.

DaCosta brings a strong visual style to the film, most notably through the use of gorgeous shadow puppetry to illustrate past stories of racial violence. Similarly, the sense of atmosphere is nicely handled, as things get progressively darker, grittier and gorier throughout. This is illustrated on Anthony’s body too, as the bee sting starts to take on an aspect that’s positively Cronenbergian, thanks to some impressively nasty special effects work that will have people retching in the aisles.

The script’s master-stroke is to repurpose the hook-for-hands boogeyman as a symbol of racial violence throughout history, from slavery through to modern day police brutality. DaCosta and Peele even cleverly align the name-in-the-mirror thing with the “Say their names” element of the Black Lives Matter movement – one of the film’s most blackly comic moments (and there are a few) has Anthony grinning because they “They said my name” on the news, in connection with the deaths.

In short, this sequel-slash-reboot may not be quite what die-hard fans were expecting, but it remains a stylishly made, smartly written piece of work that’s as provocative and poignant as it is chilling. Also, even if it lacks a big set-piece, it’ll still have you steering well clear of bathroom mirrors.

**** 4/5

Candyman is in UK cinemas now.


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