A few hours before watching this reboot of Candyman, I had the pleasure of meeting original beekeeper Tony Todd. Kind, gracious, and a bit of swagger one earns after a few decades of fantastic film work, he declined my offer of a ticket to the premiere, but that’s to be expected. As a longtime horror fan, I simply had to ask. It’s not every day I get to meet an icon the day a movie about them premieres. But my sincerest hope is that he enjoyed the new movie as much as I did, and many others will. His legacy is in good hands.
So where to start? Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Matteen II; Aquaman) is a visual artist living with his girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris) who runs a gallery in Chicago. Under pressure to make a name for himself and help support their life together, he is intrigued by the stories surrounding Cabrini Green, a neighborhood now all but abandoned, the area gentrified to make way for nicer developments. Laundromat man William Burke (Colman Domingo) catches him up on the story of Candyman that many of us already know. Say his name five times and he will appear to slice throats with his dreaded hook. As he begins to paint, Anthony begins to implement the story, encouraging others to say it and the havoc begins again.
Visually the film is most impressive. The art displays feel legit and the quiet houses of Cabrini Green are begging to be explored. A series of shadow puppets are utilized as characters describe the persecution of Tony Todd’s Candyman and how he’s not the only one who suffered inexcusable violence at the hands of white people. Mirrors and windows show Candyman and his bees as he slices people up. The mirrors in particular could’ve come across as gimmicky, given that many legends use them (Bloody Mary, etc.), but director Nia DaCosta keeps things moving, though there were times when I felt like it was moving a bit too quickly.
As more people say the name and his intrigue grows, Anthony is starting to change. We know what’s coming. At only an hour and a half, Anthony’s transformation to becoming the next Candyman doesn’t feel as fleshed out as it could be. Yahya is great with a mix of smiles and dead stares, but as the story reveals, his path is already very clearly laid with little room for unpredictability. Minor stuff in the sense that you’re still having a fun time watching. There are many callbacks to the original film but it is worth noting that Tony Todd is not in the opening credits for a reason.
The messages are there and carry their own set of nightmares. An oppressed community is living in a world upside down and DaCosta and co. are absolutely right in their assessment of racism and the effect it has on history. These messages are clear and the film also has room for other discussions. As Brianna discussed with an exhibitor about the newfound potential for Anthony’s work, I found myself asking the questions they were directly and indirectly bouncing back and forth. Is a story more powerful if it’s dipped in tragedy? Is an artist's paintings more alive because they are linked to real death? Is fresh awfulness what brings attention back to the injustices in society? Perhaps. After all, Candyman is “the writing on the wall,” and sadly, even after twenty years, that writing is still needed. Racial trauma hasn’t simply vanished and neither will the tales of Candyman.
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