Visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) finds inspiration for his latest work in the ghost stories of Cabrini-Green, a now-gentrified neighbourhood of Chicago that was once home to Candyman, a vengeful spirit who murdered people when summoned by saying his name five times in the mirror. But as he delves into the stories, he finds they're not just stories - they're frighteningly real...
Though it's been nearly thirty years since it was first released, Clive Barker's 'Candyman' has held an allure for horror fans. Tony Todd's spirited performance, Bernard Rose's intriguing visual cues, the music by Phillip Glass, the dynamic between racism and horror - it was far more than just a simple, straightforward slasher movie, and while subsequent movies failed to captivate in the same way, 'Candyman' has held a special place for horror fans.
Of all the talent out there today, Jordan Peele seemed like a natural fit to bring 'Candyman' into today's world. 'Get Out' and 'Us' both weaved together social critiques and horror, were smart without being pretentious, and showed that Peele understood what made audiences scared. Though Nia DaCosta is behind the camera in her second feature role, it's hard not to see Peele's imprint across 'Candyman'. You have the unsettling reality of horror for black communities in America, shown in the opening scene when Chicago police swarm on a black man hiding inside the walls of the Carbini-Green tower complex and beat him mercilessly. You have stabs of humour throughout the proceedings, and above it all, there's the unease that permeates his work.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is an interesting choice for the lead role, mirroring Tony Todd's physicality from the original movie while harbouring a certain amount of vulnerability that you wouldn't expect. The confusion and the terror on his face jumps out of the screen, and even if the movie feels curiously absent of scares, it's all so atmospheric that you're taken in by it. Indeed, 'Candyman' feels more gothic in its sensibility than horrifying. 'Lovecraft Country', another Jordan Peele-produced project, had a similar tone to it and it's the same here. The character of Candyman is one that's been borne of racial violence and horror, and given how it's continuously in season in the US, its relevance is never found wanting. If anything, 'Candyman' has come along at just the right time.
Nia DaCosta utilises the art world of Chicago well, setting violence inside of galleries, fashionable apartments, stark urban landscapes, and elevates the simple blood and guts of it all to something else. There's something in this setting, however, that gives it a distance. 'Candyman' sets up each of its horror sequences like an exhibit, allowing us to examine it closely and draw our own conclusions, rather than simply handing over an explanation. Its ending, however, feels curiously disjointed from the rest of the movie and will likely polarise audiences, but it feels in keeping with the disjointed, offbeat nature of it all.
'Candyman' is a mixed bag of dark delights; it has horror, social drama, critique, humour, and gothic tendencies. It's not going to win over everyone, but given how the whole series was a cult classic and grew by word-of-mouth, this iteration will no doubt honour that legacy.