TL;DR – A film that is haunting, captivating, terrifying, but also a bit frustrating.
Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid-credit scene/sequence.
Disclosure – I was invited to a press screening of this film
Candyman Review –
When the first Candyman arrived on screens, I was a bit too young to watch horror films, with my introduction coming a little later with movies like Scream. But when I talk to people a bit older than me, they speak in almost hushed tones about the film. That it made them fear reflections, indeed one friend suggested that I pre-emptively leave a couple of lights on for when I got home after seeing it. I thought it was all a bit silly, but now I am kind of glad that I did.
So to set the scene, we open in the 1970s in the Cabrini Green neighbourhood of Chicago, Illinois. Billy (Rodney L Jones III) is taking his family’s washing to the laundry room in the basement while cops ask everyone if they have seen a man with a hook for a hand. Ignoring them, Billy goes down into the basement, where a piece of candy comes from nowhere and lands on the floor. Within moments a figure appears from a hole in the wall, candy in one hand, a hook in the other. The boy’s screams could be heard for miles around. In the present, the Cabrini Green neighbourhood has been gentrified, and Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an artist, lives with his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) in a new apartment. Anthony is trying to find inspiration for his next artwork when Brianna’s brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) lets slip about the Candyman urban legend, and Anthony goes off to explore if it was true.
Many facets go into a good film, and one of them is undoubtedly tone. It is a factor that is difficult to create and easy to break, but Candyman nails it from the word go. This film knows what you expect going in, so it knows how to both answer and subvert those expectations. From the moment you see the hole in the wall, you know what is about to happen, even if part of your brain is going ‘surely they are not going to kill off a kid in the first two minutes of this film’. It also knows how to take the time to breathe and let you take in the weirdness or uncomfortableness permeating the world. You see this in moments of Anthony walking through an abandoned neighbourhood while Chicago shines in the background, or a quick movement in a reflection.
Two good examples of how good the tone is in this film come from the opening credits and little interludes that pop up throughout the film. As we time-shift fifty-odd years in time in the opening credits, we get shots of Chicago’s skyline in fog or clouds. But it is filmed vertically from the roof of a car. It is the world you know, but in a perspective that you don’t usually see it, this accompanied, but the score gave me goosebumps. The next comes when anyone tells a story about the past. Once we jump into the future, there are no filmed reproductions of past events. Instead, the film animates these stories with the use of shadow puppets. This, of course, gives you an art style that is not used in cinema often that you can make your own. But the film also stylises it to be both sympathetic and creepy all at the same time.
As I haven’t seen the first film, it is hard to say if this is considered a direct sequel, a soft reboot, or a full-on legacy engagement. However, the filmmakers do an excellent job of bringing you into this world and grounding you before things start shifting under your feet. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris are instantly compelling, and you are there for every shift in their relationship and every look in the mirror. It also helps that both of their characters work in the art space, so you get to see that expression come out in different mediums, though it does mean that we get introduced to a critic character (Rebecca Spence) who has big-oomph energy.
At the heart of this film is the exploration of trauma and not just trauma but cross-generational trauma. This exploration of trauma means that the film can sometimes be a bit obtuse, and other times it has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. I am reviewing this film from the outlook of being a white guy in Australia, which impacts my perspective on Candyman whether I would like it to. But on the whole, I think they were able to shift the narrative into the world they were exploring. Unfortunately, this does not always land which leads to some of the film’s frustrations. There became a disconnect between how menacing Candyman was in the reflections and how goofy it looked whenever they had him hover. I know the bees, but visually it did not work, and they use this in pivotal moments of the film. As well as that, some character motivations felt awkward in places.
In the end, do we recommend Candyman? Well, it was foreboding, creepy, oddly funny in places, with only some odd frustrations holding it back. If nothing else, you will have Sammy Davis Jr.’s The Candy Man stuck in your head for the days to come. If you liked Candyman, I would also recommend to you The Invisible Man.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Candyman
Directed by – Nia DaCosta
Screenplay by – Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld & Nia DaCosta
Based on – Candyman by Bernard Rose & The Forbidden by Clive Barker
Music by – Robert A. A. Lowe
Cinematography by – John Guleserian
Edited by – Catrin Hedström
Production/Distribution Companies – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Monkeypaw Productions, Bron Creative & Universal Pictures
Starring – Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Tony Todd, Vanessa Estelle Williams, Rebecca Spence, Cassie Kramer, Michael Hargrove, Kyle Kaminsky, Rodney L Jones III, Miriam Moss, Christiana Clark, Brian King, Torrey Hanson, Hannah Love Jones & Carl Clemons-Hopkins
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 16; New Zealand: R; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R