Candyman (2021) Review

Candyman (2021)
  • Directing8.5
  • Writing8.5
  • Acting8.5

Nia DaCosta's Candyman (2021) is meticulously shot, with each frame feeling like an elaborate attempt to make you squirm in your seat and ultimately feel uncomfortable as her retelling of the classic character feels updated and modern, yet true to its folktale roots. This version of Candyman is surely going to give you nightmares and have you leaving the theater with more on your mind than most mainstream horror flicks.

Director Nia DaCosta revives the popular Tony Todd Candyman franchise for modern eyes, co-writing a script with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld. Candyman (2021) is a shocking and dense modern day horror masterpiece, acting as a rebootquel in its approach, revisiting familiar territory as it tackles similar themes through a tried plot that makes way for new terror as the evolution of Candyman unfolds in front of your very own eyes.

Candyman follows Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an aspiring artist that is stuck trying to find inspiration for his next piece. His girlfriend and art director Brianna (Teyonah Parris) is supportive and honest in her appreciation of Anthony’s work and love for wanting Anthony to be happy, which is why she’s talked him up to her boss in hopes of allowing him to express his creativity and artistic freedoms in an upcoming gallery.

Down on ideas and desperate for help, Anthony turns to the projects of Cabrini Green, which is home to the folklore surrounding the Candyman. The story goes that he was once innocently murdered and now haunts and kills those that say his name five times in front of a mirror.

There are slight alterations of just who the Candyman is or what he represents, but everyone knows that they don’t dare say his name in fear of what they might summon.

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t seen the original flick or its sequels in years (until last night, when I re-watched the original after having seen this new one). And up until this point, I didn’t remember much of anything about the Candyman movies aside from Tony Todd stalking and killing people with that creepy-looking hook.

So under the pretense of not remembering the original film or its sequels, below are my thoughts on the latest film.

Candyman (2021) is meticulously shot, with each frame pulling out and presenting so much information that’s part of the overall horror aspect of making you jump or squirm in your seat, yet also tells a horrifying tale of damaged characters made this way by their environment and the system that intentionally broke and beat them, only to come back to knock them down again after they’ve had the chance to rise up and almost get out or free themselves. 

It’s a stark reflection of America circa 2021 after so many racially-motivated murders and crimes have been committed and people are starting to both: feel like there’s no hope left and start to feel like certain circumstances or obstacles have been purposely put in place to restrict and limit them. Candyman (2021), much like the original before it, is directly addressing such problems and outcomes of gentrification and condemning one group of people through folktales of the boogeyman, ousted because of his race, not because of his so-called crimes.

I have no idea how much this movie cost to make (nor do I really care to find out), but it looks like a 50 million dollar production, full of eerie, yet sharp set pieces and practical gore and effects (mixed in with some very obvious CGI) that completes the whole thing. 

The music is bombastic and loud, with the score chilling you to the bone and the sound design (at least in my ATMOS auditorium) making you look around the room almost constantly as mirrors and reflections are key points of interest as shadows in the hallway become home to enticing background sounds. There are so many unique sound-based decisions in this film that feel calculated for maximum scare efforts.

Composer Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe and his sound team have successfully managed to make the sound an integral character within the film and a deliberate piece of the puzzle that compliments the visceral imagery, shot by DP John Guleserian and director Nia DaCosta.

I guess what I’m trying to say is I feel like the direction and cinematography are stand outs here, as well as the acting — Yahya Abdul-Mateen II steals the show in a performance that’s a clever deconstruction of innocence and arrogance, full of subtle immaturities that are struck down with blind ignorance. His performance is rough in its progression, like scraping a piece of sandpaper against the bare skin, only to reveal the meaty and juicy insides that are suddenly full of past pain and struggle. It’s a tall order that Abdul-Mateen II fulfills and then some.

I’m so use to “modern day” or “franchise” horror being big, dumb, loud and thoughtless, yet Nia DaCosta unapologetically makes a Candyman movie that fans will surely enjoy and may even find things a bit too familiar, yet newcomers (like me) are absolutely pulled into the mythos of the character and suddenly curious to go down the rabbit hole of the original and its sequels again. 

Candyman (2021) breathes terrifying new life into a somewhat obscure franchise in a way that’s topical and relevant today, just as it was in the early 90s. 

I’d argue that this Candyman isn’t as originally constructed as Jordan Peele’s Get Out or Us (Peele produced, co-wrote and championed this rebootquel), but I would say that it’s a bit more effective in its execution of making a somewhat more mainstream horror movie that’s also unafraid to peel (ha!) back some layers and dig into the subtext amongst the violence and bloodshed. 

And now having rewatched the original after seeing this newest film, I will say that DaCosta’s film borrows from the plot heavily and creates essentially what is a modern retelling of the original film, with slight alterations that are a welcoming addition. This version of Candyman is more detailed and better constructed in terms of merging the horrors of the story unfolding with the actual horror of the jump scares and violence — where the original film weirdly strung things together with jump scares that are consistent and impressive, but all over the place — this new installment streamlines and tightens.

Candyman (2021) is one of those rare rebootquels with a pulse, pounding loud and with an unflinching statement, much like the original, but with a bit more context and decades worth of updated commentary on social status and class through the means of horror and folklore. It’s just as good, dare I say, better than the original in making you squirm in your seat and reflect on the story being told and the imagery being presented.

Director Nia DaCosta is a true horror visionary that features that rare one-two punch of technical talent behind the lens, with an eye for detail, composition and framing, yet also has the chops as a writer and ultimate storyteller that knows how to tap into our inner-feelings and emotions to bring forth true terror and suspense.

Candyman (2021) isn’t just one of the better horror movies that I’ve seen in recent years, but also one of the very best movies of 2021.

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