At one particular moment in Nia DaCosta’s Candyman, we see artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) at a posh Chicago gallery, standing before his new piece which is a tribute to the urban legend of Candyman. It’s there where he’s over-explaining the work’s intent to a critic trying to quietly regard it. His insights are visibly irritating her and hindering her ability to engage with the piece. It’s a blunder on his part that speaks to the main misstep of this reboot from DaCosta and her cowriters, Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld: a neo-Candyman overstuffed with numerous relevant springboards for discussion, often at the expense of something more fulfilled and succinct.
Working as a direct sequel to Bernard Rose’s 1992 film of the same title, this iteration too sets itself in Chicago’s Cabrini-Green homes, a neighborhood filled with the lore of its own boogeyman: The Candyman, a towering killer with a hook for a hand and a hive of bees swarming around him, who slashes through anyone who dares to speak his name five times into a mirror. Anthony, who lives in a highly gentrified condo with his girlfriend, gallery director Brianna (Teyonah Parris), becomes acquainted with the legend while trying to break through his creative block. When a local recounts the story of the Candyman to him, the artist is thrown down a rabbit hole of violent histories, which the film inventively illustrates through shadow puppet shows.
Such histories are presented within an abundance of social and cultural prompts, some stuffed into the narrative to the point of being barely grazed. The central one, which speaks to the generational trauma that marks black citizens, is clearly a complex one, and this largely is a story more about asking questions than providing tidy answers. And that subject in particular is one frequently oversimplified by filmmakers; when you try to tackle race on a purely surface-level, ignoring how much it can intersect within so many elements in society, you get something like Green Book. To her credit, DaCosta keeps the conversation realistically messy if still a bit blunt at times — opening up intersecting threads on how black art brushes up against commerce while serving as a testimonial source of power across generations. “Candyman is how we deal with the fact that this is happening, that it’s still happening,” local William Burke (Colman Domingo) grunts.
With all these ideas buzzing around the narrative like the many bees that appear, it’s easy to lose some connection with the film’s wavelength of ideas. It’s a film that at some points plays like a slasher movie, and others like a cheeky art world commentary/satire. Candyman can be each of those things, but its various interests seem plainly underdeveloped or just truncated in its ninety-one minute runtime. When the scares of the slasher variation do arrive though, Candyman can be effective. DaCosta instinctively keeps both audience and legend at arm’s length, staging kills with numerous mirror reflection motifs, while also having doses of humor that come with intent and purpose; one of which sees a black character ask who would be foolish enough to do the Candyman prompt for fun, just before smash-cutting to a white girl trudging down a hallway to her doom. It’s a throwaway gag until DaCosta actually sees the concept through till the film’s final act.
But even with the sly jokes, Candyman continually plumbs into many other big concepts, chiefly the notion that there are actually many Candymen that exist, each representing a different black man wronged by society at some point in history. And soon Anthony’s art pieces become entangled with them, but the film simply doesn’t have enough time to offer more than just a glancing commentary to the many ideas that such entanglement suggests. Which only leads to the film’s final act, which is as well warped to being a little muddled. In the final, tragic act of the original Candyman, Rose and the great Tony Todd delivered the titular character as a Phantom of the Opera–esque villain, both horrifying and lovelorn. But in DaCosta’s movie, we see a transformation into the creature himself, a script choice that serves only to sideline the film’s protagonist, and hold back Abdul-Mateen’s otherwise solid performance. By the end of this new Candyman, little personal investment remains for the audience, just a collection of provocative thoughts failing to cohere into something greater. Yet those thoughts and sets of thrills, as slack as they might get, bring some potency to this affair. As overstuffed and lacking cohesion as it gets, Candyman‘s visual allure has enough power to actually get a hook in you.
Candyman is playing in Theaters nationwide, as of August 27