Candyman (2021) is the perfect continuation of 1992's movie of the same name. Even though I'd seen the trailer, I was still half-expecting a reboot when we went to see it this week. I was pleasantly surprised, though, to find that it was actually a sequel - and impressed by how well the two stories intertwined.
(Warning: there are spoilers after this point.)
It's been ten years since the last of the Cabrini-Green tenement buildings were torn down. Like they usually do in these cases, rich people came in behind the wrecking balls and erected shiny new artisan communities in their places. Anyone who's seen Rent (or, hell, even South Park) knows that the gentrification of the ghetto is far from a new concept in the entertainment industry.
That theme, along with the absence vs. omnipresence of police in the ghetto, underscore the visceral body horror in 2021's Candyman. They add a very real, very recognizable, very social horror that stays with you long after you can sleep with the lights off again.
(I'm just kidding... I never sleep with the lights off.)
I'm not usually a fan of gore in movies but it does work well in Candyman. Although intense at times, it's never overused. It doesn't linger overlong on the odd severed neck, for example, and the bevvy of schoolgirls dumb enough to say Candyman five times in the mirror are killed just out of shot - though there are plenty of squelchy noises and buckets of blood to keep you clued in.
Probably the most disturbing sight in the film comes in the form of poor tortured artist, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.) The story centers around McCoy and his exploration of Candyman through art but, as it goes on, you learn that he's so much more important to the legend than you expected.
The grotesqueness starts subtly, when McCoy gets a bee sting on his hand while he photographs Cabrini-Green the same way Virginia Madsen's Helen Lyle did in '92. (There are so many clever little shout-outs to the original like that.) The skin around the sting starts to fester, the infection spreading until OMGWHYDIDIGETPOPCORNBLEGH. Even though it's beyond disgusting, it's also extremely well done because, by the end, his skin resembles a beehive more than flesh.
It isn't all gore and gruesome displays in Candyman. Much of the imagery is simply stunningly powerful, especially in the way bees travel in and out of mirrors, sometimes impossibly on the wrong side of the glass. There's also Candyman's murderous spree through the mirrors. I love the way that a reflection that can't possibly exist flits from here to there, leaving horror in its wake.
Maybe it's the English major in me, but I just love the symbolism of the mirrors in Candyman - which, by the way, cleverly start with the production logos being reversed (as if viewed through a mirror,) accompanied by the quiet buzz of bees. Much later in the movie, traumatized youth and local laundromat owner, William Burke (Colman Domingo,) makes the case that Candyman is a coping mechanism, a way to help the ghetto get through the worst of the violence leveled at them.
It's an idea that's reinforced by one of the movie's final scenes. White police officers - doing what white police officers always do - burst in and murder an unresponsive Anthony (laying on the ground and definitely not able to defend himself.) Rather than ask if his girlfriend, Teyonah Parris's Brianna Cartwright, needs help, they proceed to handcuff her, bundle her into a cop car, and threaten to send her to jail if she doesn't say Anthony attacked the police officers first.
You can see the moment her faith in humanity dies.
If, like me, you've spent the last several years watching the police get more and more out of control (getting sicker and sicker of it,) you understand exactly why Brianna does what she does at this point. Maybe William Burke had a point, after all...
The scathing social commentary brings Candyman bang up-to-date and, hopefully, gives some viewers a good gutcheck about how they approach these issues while the frequent jump-scares are enough to keep the more nervous viewers (like me!) on the edge of their seat. To balance out the gore, frights, and heavy social issues, we get the absolute freaking delight that is Nathan Stewart Jarrett as Brianna's brother, Troy.
Troy is fabulous, bitchy, and completely over-the-top in the most endearing way possible. I loved every moment he was on the screen and all of my favourite lines (bar the repetition of the original's "I am the writing on the wall/I must shed innocent blood" bit, which still gives me chills) come compliments of Troy. My favourite line has to be, "Ain't a dick on the planet good enough to offset a demonology hobby."
I mean... I rather think it would improve even the worst dick, but to each their own!
The only disappointing thing about Candyman is that there isn't enough Tony Todd in it. I'd heard that he wasn't in it until the end, but that super brief cameo was such a dirty little tease! At least his last scene leaves you with the suggestion that there will be more Candyman to come.
I disagree with people who dislike this sequel because it's "too political" or "over-focused on black issues." Horror movies have always held mirrors to society and Candyman one is no different. What is different, though, is that it doesn't hide these issues behind layers of half-assed symbolism that you have to sift through microscopic details to find meaning in. Like its title character, Candyman is unapologetically a reflection of the society that created it.
And that society is fucking terrifying.
Candyman reflects a society where being black is okay if you're the "right" type of black. A society where even that won't keep you out of prison if it comes down to your word or a white man's. A society where a hooked-handed ghost that comes out of a mirror is less frightening than the real horrors you have to face walking home every night. Candyman challenges viewers to face these societal horrors head-on.
And, of course, to say his name.