The Candyman: look in the mirror and say his name five times and he’ll come to kill you. The horror/slasher franchise from the 90s has returned to haunt audiences on the big screen. Directed and written by Nia DaCosta (The Little Woods), with Win Rosenfield and Jordan Peele also collecting screenwriting credits, Candyman is a spine-chilling, socially conscious horror film.
Set in the gentrified Chicago neighborhood Cabrini-Green, Candyman follows visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his partner and art gallery director, Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris). The new luxury apartment Anthony and Brianna have just moved into may seem nice, but the area has history. What used to be the housing projects of Cabrini-Green was terrorized by the folk legend of the “Candyman”, a supernatural killer with a hook for a hand that would leave razor blades in children’s candy. Needing inspiration for his next art project, Anthony investigates the myth of the Candyman and attempts to summon him. Anthony soon realizes he has unleashed a powerful, murdering force, with an agenda that has Anthony at the center of it all. As The Candyman begins to claim his victims, Anthony watches his sanity crumble.
Jordan Peele, with his films Get Out and Us, has sparked a wave of pointedly political horror movies. He has used the horror genre as a canvas for speaking out on matters of race and financial disparity. Director Nia DaCosta, working alongside Peele, has used the story of The Candyman as a framework to voice concerns over current social issues – particularly, gentrification and the relationship between the police and the black community. The Candyman serves as an avenging angel, a homicidal vigilante that takes vengeance against anyone foolish enough to summon him. In the opening scene of the film, Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove) is wanted for being a suspect behind a razor blade showing up in a white girl’s candy. When Sherman shows himself to a little black boy and offers him candy, the boy screams and alerts the police. Sherman is later heard being beaten to death. After Sherman’s death, more and more razor blades show up in children’s candy. Sherman was wrongfully convicted of the crime and never offered lawful due process. He has become a part of the Candyman legend that haunts the community.
Sherman’s life being taken by the hands of a white oppressor isn’t the first to occur in the neighborhood of Cabrini-Green. There were other black male victims before him, including Daniel Robitaille, a black painter who committed the sin of falling in love with a white girl. William Burke, the owner of a laundromat who speaks to Anthony’s curiosity, hints at the idea The Candyman isn’t one person, but rather “the whole damn hive.” The Candyman isn’t simply a murdering ghost that comes from your mirror, but a symbol of black pain and suffering. DaCosta echoes this idea throughout the film. However, when it comes to delivering her final thoughts is where things get muddy.
The ending to Candyman feels unresolved. You are left with the feeling, “so that’s it?” DaCosta does make good by leaving off on a cliffhanger, making the possibility of a sequel clear, but I wanted more. Candyman doesn’t resonate as strongly as it could have. There is too much ambiguity in the film’s final dialogue and message.
Candyman is a great horror film as much as it is a political instrument. The tone of dread DaCosta establishes early on lingers throughout the film. This tone is supplemented by the dark and beautiful cinematography of John Guleserian, and the creepy score from composer Robert A. A. Lowe. The film also displays a few brutal and grisly murders for those excited about the slasher aspects of Candyman. A cinematic device DaCosta frequently uses is shadow puppets when characters are discussing the past. I found this to be a refreshing alternative to the traditional flashback sequence. Lastly, the performance of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II carries the film. His gradual decay, physically and mentally, is something to watch.
Candyman isn’t a perfect criticism of social issues, but the film is a conversation starter. There is enough substance open for interpretation to initiate interesting dialogue after watching with friends. The movie is also one of the better horror movies I’ve seen all year. I do recommend you check Candyman out.