This weekend, horror film Candyman earned over $20 million, making it the first profitable theater-only release in a post-pandemic world and earning writer/director Nia DaCosta the title of first Black female director with a No. 1 movie in its opening weekend—and she’s only 31. DeCosta’s sequel to the 1992 Bernard Rose flick of the same name feels like a reboot largely due to its character improvements and assistance from writers and producers Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Win Rosenfeld (BlackKkKlansman).
In DaCosta’s vision, the plot mirrors the original film wherein folklore legend declares speaking the name “Candyman” five times into a mirror makes the ethereal baddie appear and kill you. In the ‘92 version, grad student Helen (Virginia Madsen) skeptically invites the monstrosity into being. But whereas Rose’s film suggests Candyman represents a subconscious reflection of urban fears—an explanation for the violent environment of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project.
In DaCosta’s sequel, struggling artist Anthony McCoy (played beautifully by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) summons Candyman back, bringing with him a new past filled with dimension and showing a different kind of scary compared to Tony Todd’s performance in the ‘92 version. And even though Todd absolutely kills it, the script lacks effective character development. Originally comparable to other slasher antagonists like Jason or Michael Myers, DaCosta encourages us to fear and pity Candyman. His more nuanced portrayal represents manifestations of fear, guilt and hatred, and, more specifically, white supremacist fear of Black livelihood. Here Candyman represents what happens when belligerent rumors and stereotypes leave someone no choice but to become that stereotype.
The film’s messaging is so blatant, however, that viewers might roll their eyes from what one character describes as the “overuse” of the Black experience. Still, that reflects society’s behavior and it’s devastatingly common to see viral videos of racial profiling, violence and police brutality. And some people still don’t believe discrimination exists.
Thankfully, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (of brilliant British series Utopia and Misfits) serves humor worthy of a chef’s kiss and Teyonah Parris (Wandavision) shines as the real standout performer. Pity, then, that frequent flashbacks meant to develop the characters appear jarring rather than intimate. Yes, the slasher persona in this new iteration diminishes, but like Peele’s previous works, horror sometimes works better when the truth stands bare.
+ Self-aware comedic moments
-The message is too obvious at times
Directed by DaCosta
With Abdul-Mateen II, Stewart-Jarrett and Parris
Violet Crown, R, 91 min.