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At this point, many audiences may roll their eyes at the announcement that yet another piece of pop iconography from the final decades of the 20th century has been churned through the Hollywood meat-grinder, resulting in an inevitably unsatisfying sequel, prequel, or flat-out remake drawing in its own sea of halfhearted nostalgia-bait. For a while it seemed that avid fans and sentimental movie-lovers harbored an insatiable optimism, blocking out the disappointment of hollow disasters like ‘Point Break’ (2015), ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016), and ‘The Mummy’ (2015) and zealously cherishing marginal successes like ‘Jurassic World’ (2015) and ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ (2017). But the excitement around the unending stream of revamps and retellings has steadily dwindled in recent years, star-eyed idealists replaced with steel-hearted skeptics.
Video: Full Commentary & Behind the Scenes ‘Candyman’
This apprehension colored much of the discourse surrounding the proposition of returning to the world forged by director Bernard Rose’s cult classic ‘Candyman’ (1992). These fears were quickly quieted by the news that the project would be spearheaded by Monkeypaw Productions, the studio founded by the horror maestro and director of ‘Get Out’ (2017) and ‘Us’ (2019); Jordan Peele. Layered on top of that was the news that Peele would co-write the screenplay and the up-and-coming director of 2018’s ‘Little Woods’ Nia DaCosta would helm the project, and the project had wormed its way into being one of 2021’s most eagerly anticipated releases. While ‘Candyman’ (2021) is somewhat of a mixed bag of both sweets and sours, it ultimately rises above its cherished forebear by virtue of its loving blend of slasher camp with a tragic reimagining of its titular entity – from an allegory of racial injustice to a vengeful avatar of the oppressed – asking audiences if they dare to say his name.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Shines Alongside a Stellar Cast that Elevates the Typical Conventions of the Genre
DaCosta’s ‘Candyman’ is certainly a far more audacious return to stagnant IP than most recent studio outings (a particular newfangled intergalactic cartoon caper starring a renowned NBA superstar comes to mind), telling a story that weaves in and out of the events that have taken place prior while succinctly elevating and elaborating on the original’s mythos. Yahya Abdul Mateen II, star of HBO’s ‘Watchmen’ (2019) and ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ (2020), portrays a hotshot Chicago artist named Anthony McCoy who is struggling with inspiration for his latest piece. He embarks on a hunt through the abandoned Chicago neighborhoods in the shadows of Cabrini Green, once a decrepit public housing block that was torn down and swiftly gentrified, discovering the legend of the Candyman from a local long-time resident portrayed by ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ (2020) actor Colman Domingo.
Domingo explains that there once was a man who lived in Cabrini Green named Daniel Robitaille who had a hook for a hand and passed out candy to local children. Once razor blades started popping up in candy around the area the police suspected Daniel, and brutally beat him to death as soon as they caught him. But after razor blades continued popping up following Daniel’s death, it became clear he had been innocent of the crimes. Residents began reporting seeing Daniel’s spirit lurking in the shadows, and a ghost story quickly developed about his fiendish alter ego; the Candyman. The legend went that if one said his name five times into a mirror, he would be summoned to kill them. The film uses the plot of the original film as additional fodder for the myth, McCoy reading up on the fate of Virginia Madsen’s Helen Lyle and her own quest to understand Candyman. He sees in this urban legend the raw grist of his next artistic series, unknowingly setting into motion the return of the malignant spirit and untangling his own predestined connection to the cyclical tragedy that has plagued the city for generations.
Alongside Mateen is ‘WandaVision’ (2021) breakout Teyonah Parris as his strong-willed partner and devoted gallery director Brianna Cartwright. As McCoy plunges deeper into the lore of Candyman, so too does he further alienate all those in his life, offering Parris the opportunity to demonstrate her acting chops and prove her stint in the MCU was far more than a fluke. Additional standouts include Vanessa Williams, who returns from the 1992 film as Anne-Marie McCoy (Anthony’s mother), and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as Brianna’s brother, who offers much-needed comedic relief in a similar fashion to Lil Rey Howery’s character in ‘Get Out’.
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‘Candyman’ – A Promising Step Forward In the Careers of Both Peele and DaCosta
The film represents a very interesting progression for both Peele as a producer and DaCosta as a mainstream Hollywood director, cementing them both as some of the industry’s foremost talent and boldest risk-takers. For Peele, his upstart production studio had struggled to find an unreserved critical and financial success that he himself had not spearheaded from the director’s chair. ‘Candyman’ serves as an emphatic declaration that Peele is capable of finding and spotlighting young and exciting diverse voices at the same level as the likes of Ryan Coogler’s Proximity Media (responsible for films such as ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ (2020) and ‘Homeroom’ (2021)). As for DaCosta, the film represents her ascension as one of the industry’s brightest rising talents as well as a mission statement for the kinds of stories she hopes to tell going forward. Fans left with a bad taste in their mouths by 2019’s ‘Captain Marvel’ can rest assured that the character has found its way into competent hands, DaCosta tapped to helm 2022 sequel ‘The Marvels’, joining Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers with Parris’ Monica Rambeau and Iman Vellani’s Kamala Khan.
A Sensational Ending that Literalizes A Pressing Contemplation of Police Brutality and Marginalization
The horror genre has long served as a bastion for relevant political protest and striking allegorical expression, utilizing its no-holds-barred freedom to sneak in a meaningful message. No creator working today better understands the relationship between horror and activism than Jordan Peele, and he more than lives up to his reputation with ‘Candyman’. Along with DaCosta, the two somehow manage to imbue the previously demonic boogeyman with a forlorn sympathy, yet another name scratched off a list due to police brutality.
The “Say his name” mantra, first little more than a kitschy tagline, is brought into the 21st century – establishing a tragic parallel with the “Say Their Names” hashtag that trended for months during the Black Lives Matter protests of summer 2020. Candyman is reborn through new eyes, now an unsparing guardian of the underrepresented. The film’s conclusion, while admittedly bogged down by a rushed expositional dump from Domingo, culminates in a truly breathtaking final scene sure to linger with audiences the next time they see the searing blue flash of the police. Despite being simultaneously over and under-stuffed, ‘Candyman’ manages to live up to its predecessor while telling a story so pertinent, it’s sure to make people continue to say its name for decades to come.
Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Tony Todd, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Vanessa Williams
Cinematographer: John Guleserian | Editor: Catrin Hedström | Score: Robert A. A. Lowe
Director: Nia DaCosta | Writer: Nia DaCosta, Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld | Producers: Jordan Peele, Ian Cooper, Win Rosenfeld
By Andrew Valianti
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Andrew Valianti is a writer and an aspiring producer-director, and all-around film lover. While writing both features and reviews for the Hollywood Insider, Andrew has focused on the intersection of cinema and politics as they relate to empowering diverse stories and viewpoints. Through both study and practice, Andrew has seen first hand the many ways in which film and media can have a positive and meaningful impact on everyday lives. His personal views align with the Hollywood Insider, as he views journalism as a means to empower and mobilize positive change rather than spread gossip or negativity. He believes that art ignites action and has sought to pursue stories that further this goal.