James Jay Edwards

Nia DeCosta’s Candyman Dares You To “Say His Name”

(Candyman, courtesy Universal Pictures and MGM)

James Jay Edwards reviews Candyman, a supernatural slasher film directed by Nia DaCosta and starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. (Universal Pictures

 

In 1992, Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden” was adapted into the movie Candyman by filmmaker Bernard Rose, and a horror classic was born. And now, like all horror classics, Candyman is getting a modern reboot, courtesy of producer Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) and director Nia DeCosta (Little Woods, Ghost Tape).

Candyman is about a Chicago artist named Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II from Aquaman and Watchmen) who is in a creative slump. He finds inspiration in the legend of Candyman, a ghostly figure with a hook for a hand who haunted the Cabrini-Green housing project and can be summoned by looking in a mirror and saying his name five times. The more Anthony researches the story, the more intense and powerful his art becomes. But it becomes clear that he has meddled in things that he does not understand when the people around him start meeting gruesome and brutal fates.

(Candyman, theatrical release poster, courtesy Universal Pictures and MGM)

As is the case with many modern horror re-imaginings, there has been a question of whether Candyman is a sequel or a remake. The answer is … it’s a bit of both. The screenplay, written by Peele and DaCosta along with Win Rosenfeld (who worked on Peele’s The Twilight Zone series), recounts the story of Helen from the first movie, but does so as part of the Candyman urban legend (and exaggerates it as such), so it becomes another chunk of the mythology. So, while Candyman does share some character traits and plot points with its predecessor, it’s a continuation of the events in the universe. A “spiritual sequel.”

Although there’s plenty of sociological and racial subtext included, what Candyman basically boils down to is a supernatural slasher, and that’s exactly what it should be. The summoning of the demon is a bit of a joke amongst the characters—as it would be in real life—but, of course, Anthony’s research leads him there. It’s no joke when Candyman actually shows up and starts wreaking havoc, though. He’s a ruthless and cunning killer, portrayed with much less sympathy than he is in the previous Candyman movies.

 

(Candyman, courtesy Universal Pictures and MGM)

Nia DaCosta knows how to make a horror film. She’s stingy with how much of her villain is shown, leaving much of the terror up to the audience’s imagination. And that’s scarier than anything that the director could show on screen. Candyman leans hard into the mirror energy, which works very well, especially during one scene in particular where a character is in an elevator with all mirrored walls. Some of Candyman’s killings are shown in graphic detail, but many are just offscreen or obscured by objects in the foreground or soft focus. What’s happening is always crystal clear, though.

Now, about that sociological and racial subtext. Candyman has a lot to say about gentrification and low-income housing, and how rich white people game the system to benefit themselves. It’s not subtle, but it doesn’t overshadow the sheer horror of the movie either. While no one’s going to miss the point, no one is going to see Candyman for its socio-political leanings, either. Those familiar with Jordan Peele’s other horror flicks will understand the delicate balancing act between entertainment and social justice.

 

(Candyman, courtesy Universal Pictures and MGM)

So, how does Candyman compare to the original? The movies are very similar in many ways, even if this version doesn’t quite capture the essence of the Chicago housing projects in the same way as its predecessor. Horror “re-imaginings” are always a mixed bag; for every Maniac there’s a Carrie, and for every The Texas Chainsaw Massacre there’s an A Nightmare on Elm Street. It doesn’t quite outshine the original, but Nia DaCosta’s Candyman is one of the good ones. And viewers just might accidentally learn a thing or two while saying his name five times.

Candyman is in theaters now.

 

 

Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.

 

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