Film & TV

Nia DaCosta’s ‘Candyman’ is a Serviceable, Thematic Mess

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Could the expectations for “Candyman” be any higher? It’s a remake of a beloved 90s horror flick, directed by up-and-coming director Nia DaCosta and produced and written by Jordan Peele. This movie had the promise to be something different á la “Get Out” or “Us.” 

Ambitious to a fault, this gruesome slasher feels more like a missed opportunity than a trailblazer. The gorgeous visuals and brisk pace can’t elevate a messy screenplay and shoddy execution of its timely theme.

Newly-recognized artist Anthony McCoy (Yayha Abdul-Mateen II) and his art dealer girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris) are adjusting to life in the newly gentrified Cabrini-Green neighborhood in Chicago — home to the Candyman urban legend: if you say his name five times in a mirror, he appears in the reflection and kills you.

Denying all the obvious warnings, Anthony latches on to the Candyman and uses him as inspiration for his next art piece. He inadvertently summons a threat that will terrorize him, the people around him and Cabrini-Green. 

Yellow is used by DaCosta (“Little Woods,” “Top Boy”) throughout the movie — Candyman’s hook and bees are the most prominent ones — as a motif. The bright color is traditionally associated with optimism and joy but the yellow symbols in this movie could not be further. Candyman and his various forms serve as a tale of caution (an ominous yellow symbol), one that represents a history of oppression and foretells a pessimistic future. 

Many of the ways this theme is explored are poorly done, primarily due to the didactic screenplay. The genius of Peele’s “Get Out” was its ability to seamlessly fuse social commentary and horror. It’s clear he, DaCosta and Win Rosenfeld (“BlackKklansman,” “Hunters”) are trying to replicate that. Unfortunately, lightning rarely strikes twice. 

A scary story and puppet show is a captivating way to portray the Candyman legend. After that, the writers and directors rely on poorly written and seemingly disconnected monologues — lines that could be found in a long Twitter thread — to give the mythology a timely meaning. The attempt to make Candyman more than a typical serial killer is admirable, but the way DaCosta chooses to do it undermines most of the goodwill. 

Not only that, the film isn’t long enough to effectively cover the weighty theme of Black oppression in America. Running at 91 minutes, the director should’ve employed a longer duration and gradual pace rather than rushing to a confusing conclusion. 

That said, “Candyman” isn’t without its merits. Even though its fast pace works against it, at an hour and a half, DaCosta doesn’t waste a second and the movie moves very swiftly. It never feels boring, keeping the viewer mostly entertained from start to finish — especially in the killing scenes. 

Just like Peele, DaCosta isn’t interested in cheap jump scares and focuses on generating suspense through an eerie ambiance. The lack of traditional horror scares is slightly confusing, but DaCosta makes up for it with an incredible amount of gore. The body horror is truly frightening in some scenes. Candyman’s crimes are depicted off-screen with the viewer often seeing the aftermath — a copious amount of blood, slit necks and rotting skin.

Abdul-Mateen II (“Aquaman,” “Trial of the Chicago 7”) is an exciting actor who has a bright future ahead of him. He isn’t asked to do anything special in the first half of the movie, flashing his acting chops towards the second half once Anthony starts to lose his grip on reality. The script lets him down quite a bit and his character is never fleshed out — unlike the Candyman himself. 

The rest of the cast is given subpar characterization. Colman Domingo (“Zola,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) is such a great presence, he warranted more screen time and a better payoff for his character. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (“The Kid Who Would Be King,” “The Argument’”) nails the Jordan Peele horror-comedy side character role and has some laugh out loud moments. The rest of the performances are fine and some of them have good scenes, but no one leaves a mark. 

It’s hard to call “Candyman” a disappointment. By itself, it’s a serviceable horror movie. When one considers the talent and source material involved, it doesn’t live up to its lofty expectations. However, those looking for a fast, gory slasher flick will be more than satisfied.

Either way, don’t say Candyman five times in a mirror. Just don’t. 

“Candyman,” rated R, is now playing in theaters. 

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