By Kevin Muller
To say Jordon Peele’s star has risen, would be an understatement. In the span of four years, he has gone from a hilarious sketch comic to one of the most reliable talents in Hollywood. Even though his projects still contain the humor that we love him for, he also injects a lot of social commentary into his films about the black experience. Now, he has brought back the old horror classic, Candyman, to the big screen in what is considered a sequel and NOT a remake. Does he breathe new life into the project or was this a property he should’ve left alone?
Anthony, who is a young aspiring artist, and his girlfriend Brianna, are living in the same neighborhood from the first film, but it has been gentrified from the last time we saw it 29 years ago. While Brianna is an art gallery director, Anthony struggles to find inspiration that will help him sell paintings and stand out amongst critics. One specific critic cites that his art, about his feelings on slavery, is too basic and flat. While walking around the lesser developed part of his neighborhood, he encounters an old man who tells him the story of Candyman and Helen Lyle, the character from the first film, and how he will appear if a person says “Candyman” five times into a mirror. The story sparks anew inspiration in Anthony, but also resurrects the stone-cold killer. The bodies start to pile up as more and more of his paintings start being created.
While Peele has a screenwriting credit, along with Will Rosenfeld, he has handed off the director reigns to Nia DaCosta, who also co-wrote the script, and creates one of the more memorable mainstream films to come out this year. This is her second film, after 2018’s Little Woods, and from the start of this film, she makes her mark. The two biggest standouts to this film, under her helm, are the collaborative work of cinematographer John Guleserian and composer Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. Guleserian, who has dabbled in projects that are more of a lighter fare, fully accepts the challenge to create an eerie world that mixes the real and supernatural so well. This is more than just a standard horror film, thanks to the cinematographer who brings the nightmarish images to life. There is a certain beauty in the blood, horror, and overall scares he shoots here. It is an extremely artsy picture, in that respect. The emotions of these scenes are elevated by Lowe’s score, which possesses an electronic sound, reminiscent of the work of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. DaCosta isn’t afraid to let the suspense build up either. This is a director that wants the story to heighten the scares. She understands that the more invested you become in the world and its characters, the more the horror will hit you. Additionally, she bounces off the original story quite well, with beautiful recaps of the events of the first film and the legend of the title character. Those specific sequences, which I won’t spoil here, are creative and a joy to watch.
All the technical aspects of the film are there, but what sells this are the performances by the cast. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris give plenty to DaCosta that lives outside typical horror film performances. Mateen, who will soon be a young Morpheus, in the new Matrix film, provides a perfectly well thought out tragic character out of Anthony. He isn’t an evil, or bad, character, but one just controlled by his obsession. As with some young artists, he yearns to make a difference through his art, but can’t think outside of the small box he places himself in. Parris, who gave a great performance in this year’s Wandavision, is playing a character who is ambitious, supportive, but a bit annoyed with her lover. She also gets to play off her own childhood tragedy, adding to the depth of the character. The themes of gentrification and black identity are well communicated through the performances by the two young actors. The addition of Vanessa Williams, who was in the first film, and Colman Domingo, is ace too. Both characters add to the lore of the title character and how much of a threat he is to their neighborhood. Domingo is exceptionally good as the man who informs Anthony of the legend.
Candyman is a horror film that has an artist’s eye and a poet’s heart. DaCosta has created something that is unsettling, but so well executed. Oh, for you fans of the original, Tony Todd, who played the title character in the first one, does make an appearance. It is a brief but satisfying one that is the cherry on top of one hell of a film.
I am giving Candyman a 4 ½ out of 5 Hairpieces!