Film Review: Candyman
Director: Nia DiCosta
In Theaters 08.27
First, the bad news: There are no Oompa Loompas in Candyman. I’m sorry. But the good news is that this it’s a grand artistic achievement and a morbidly delectable treat, the kind of movie that threatens to give sequels and reboots a good name.
The local ghost story of Candyman has hung over the housing projects of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green neighborhood for as long as anyone can remember. A supernatural killer with a hook for a hand, Candyman is easily summoned by those daring to repeat his name five times into a mirror. A decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, The Trial of The Chicago 7, Aquaman) and his partner, gallery director Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris, WandaVision) move into a luxury loft condo in Cabrini, which has been gentrified beyond all recognition.
Anthony’s painting career is on the brink of stalling when a chance encounter with William Burke (Colman Domingo, Euphoria, Zola), a longtime Cabrini-Green resident, introduces Anthony to the tragic nature of the true story behind Candyman. Anthony is drawn to the tale, and begins to explore the macabre details in his studio as a fresh concept for paintings. He unknowingly opens a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence and a date with destiny.
Director Nia DiCosta—who gave us the spellbinding indie crime thriller Little Woods and is set to direct Parris and Brie Larson in The Marvels—has found a bold take on the material that invigorates it beyond being a mere slasher movie. DiCosta, who co-writes along with Win Rosenfeld (The Twilight Zone) and producer Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us) weaves a tapestry of social commentary, juxtaposing mythology with the truth of real-life horrors. They explore our self-defeating ability to use our fear of fictional monsters to create real ones. It’s also genuinely quite scary at times, and it may give you a phobia of mirrors.
While the first Candyman used the horrors of violence against Black people in American history for its story, it did so from the perspective of a white protagonist and a white director. DiCosta’s film is layered and deep in ways that had me replaying it in my mind over and over the day after viewing it, and I had to watch it again, because it’s a film that needs not just to be seen but absorbed. DiCosta tosses in fun verbal references to movies ranging from Jurassic Park to Teen Wolf, but the way she evokes Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is inspired, from the musical score to certain characters and the contextual and meticulous visual symbolism that seems to suggest that even Jack Torrance’s descent into violent madness came with a comfortable element of white privilege.
Abdul-Mateen is a terrific actor who has been in need of a good star vehicle, and he sizzles in this role, creating an engaging character who is both sympathetic and relatable, yet disturbingly drawn into a dangerous obsession. Parris is marvelous, and while there are long sections where she doesn’t get enough to do, she ultimately gets the best moment in the movie, and it’s both heart-stopping and strangely satisfying. Domingo, who recently gave such a memorable performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, boldly commands every bit of our attention whenever he is onscreen in a great role that cleverly plays on a longstanding movie trope.
Candyman is dark, bloody and disturbing. It’s also smart, visually inventive and timely. It reminded me how good horror can be when it’s got the right hook. While it helps to have some familiarity with the franchise going in, it’s certainly not necessary. This Candyman is likely to take the considerable momentum that its director already has and send it into the stratosphere, and Nia DiCosta is a name that is destined to be repeated a lot more than five times in the years to come. –Patrick Gibbs