The new Candyman is a lot of things. Reboot, sequel…sure. But it’s also a clever, brutal investigation into the nature of narrative. So much of a story is shaped by who tells it, who owns it. Watching Nia Dacosta take the original story and twist it into not only a horrific new film but also a savage indictment of the perpetuation of violence and the way the powerful shape the story to fit their plans is a marvel. This is not the planting of a new franchise. This is a a harrowing myth come to life, rich with ideas and fertile ground to explore, if you dare say his name five times.
THE QUICK SUMMARY: Anthony McCoy is a new artist living with his curator girlfriend Brianna in the now gentrified Cabrini Green. He’s looking for inspiration for his next work, and hearing the old stories (beautifully twisted into a new perspective) of the killings perpetrated in the 90s back when Cabrini Green was still the Chicago projects draws him to look further. Soon he realizes he’s much closer to those stories than he ever imagined, as his growing obsession mirrors the now revived horrors being visited upon members of the community profiting off the erasure of the community who have always lived in fear, whether its of a hook-handed vengeful spirit or the sudden fury of a police siren. Can Anythony and Brianna stop what’s happening? Do they want to?
There is so much to unpack with what DaCosta and her co-writer/producer Jordan Peele (along with Win Rosenfeld) do with Candyman it would take someone a lot smarter with a lot more time, but I want to focus on just how good Nia DaCosta is at blending her social ideas with horror. There’s not a lot fo fat at just over 90 minutes, but that time is just as devoted to terrifying sequences of violence and gore as it is to building out a mew mythology that reinforces everything that happens in the original film while simultaneously carving out space for a richer background that seamlessly blends into what she wants to say about who controls the narrative of our stories and our fears.
She also gets a HELL of a lot of mileage out of her cast. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is mesmerizing as Anthony McCoy, and the way he moves from the cool, unaffected artist that masks his growing insecurity into the obsessed, terrified player in a story he never knew the extent he was involved in is fantastic. His chemistry with Teyonah Parris as Brianna is palpable, and though she has some burden here as the woman always playing catch-up to events she gets more than enough moments to own the role and rise above type, including the trigger that sparks the fantastic ending. Everyone is great, but special shout out to Nathan Stewart-Jarrett who plays Brianna’s gay brother and hands downs owns every scene he’s in. He also gets the best line of the film, exclaiming “Ain’t a dick on planet good enough to offset a demonology hobby.”
Any complaints about Candyman are minor. If anything, the third act gets a little hobbled with a plot twist that makes things overly confusing, trying to set things up for the banger of a finale while also trying reinforce the concept of reclaiming a narrative. But it’s a very, very small quibble. When a film is this good at building something new off the bones of the old, and does it in a way that is truly scary and not trying to set up a series of profit-driven installments, that’s cause for celebration.