I am someone who actually thinks quite highly of the first Candyman film, in spite of its rather problematic nature in regard to its race politics, which were heavily influenced by the studio. If you want more examples of this, I would really recommend listening to some of the interviews with the star of the film himself, Tony Todd, as he goes into great detail about it. However, unlike many things from that time period that are quite problematic, I don’t think you should completely count Candyman out. It is actually a very well-directed and written film, and it actually does what a lot of good horror films do; it is very slow and methodical, there are not actually a lot of kills in the final film. It was recently announced Candyman was going to be coming back under the director Nia DaCosta, and producer Jordan Peel, who both wrote the screenplay for the film as well. This time, the film would not only have an entirely African-American cast (bar one British actor; Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), but would also have an animated short which came out last year. I have not actually seen the short prior to going into this film, but I am aware that many of the animations were also used in the final film.
The plotline is a fairly interesting one, I went into Candyman based on the trailers, believing that it was going to be a re-boot of the franchise, however, the Odeon website when I booked to see the film, stated it was a ‘spiritual sequel’. I can confirm now that the Odeon site is correct, and whilst I will not give away exactly how, this version of Candyman does tie in to previous films. I would recommend if you want to see this film, you probably will not get as much out of it without at least seeing the first film. The first film is what it ties back to the most, in fact rather interestingly, I actually re-watched the first film in the morning, just before I went to see the actual film. If you are going to see it, see the unrated cut, it is the one that most of the cast and the directors like, as there was less studio interference and it gets rid of plot holes that are in the R-rated version.
Now, I will not explain exactly how Candyman 2021 is a ‘spiritual sequel’ to the other films, but it becomes apparent as the film goes on. The film is set around an artist, Anthony McCoy, who, upon investigating the neighbourhood that the first Candyman film is set in, becomes enamored by the story of the Candyman: A local named Sherman Fields gave candy to kids, only for a razorblade to be found in one of them. Following this, he was gunned down by police, only for it to be discovered later down the line that he was innocent, and would return in revenge as the Candyman. Using the same idea of when you look in the mirror and say his name five times, he will appear and kill you. Anthony, after learning this, develops a whole art exhibit about it whilst also trying to discuss middle-class gentrification, only to discover that he has accidentally re-awoken the myth and soon people will begin to die at the hands of Candyman all over again. You can probably tell from this description that this Candyman is a very politically charged film, and it wears it on its sleeve. There is no mistake that this film deals with the subject with white supremacist politics, particularly in how law enforcement structures have been allowed to continue in the way they have, it is no mistake this has come out almost a year to the date of George Floyd’s murder. I actually thought this was a genius decision. The best horror films always come from true societal fears and there is nothing more scary for individuals than this in America if you are not white.
There is also a lot of references to Breonna Taylor in this film, particularly “Say his name” (used in the film), which is based on the slogan of “Say her name”, and in fact one of the leads is also called Brianna. As it was not largely advertised in the UK, I will get you caught up; Breonna Taylor was a black woman who was gunned down in her own home by a swat team. Therefore, from the start, this film is coming from a sincere angle and as a result, feels like a modern update to the story.
Whilst Candyman is kind of indiscriminative in this film, most of the victims are very much in the wrong. They are failing to support gentrification and people that are taking advantage of a system that has allowed them the status they have, and can twist the facts. It is no mistake in how these victims are chosen in this film and it also does a very good job at tying back into the first film. Again, I will not spoil it exactly, but you will be thinking part way through that this does tie back to the first film in some cases, but facts have been changed along the way. However, I do not think it has done a great job all around. For one thing, it really only feels like it is there for one plot point, you could have actually probably made this a re-boot, and it would have been successful, it does actually pull off what it is attempting to do quite well, and there is at least one decent plot twist later in the film. However, there is a second one that really feels a bit strange, it kind of feels like it is confusing, especially considering this film is very much targeting racism, I thought this choice kind of undermined what they were going for. But at the same time, I don’t feel as though I am in a position to comment on it, though I would definitely be interested to hear from Nia DaCosta or Jordan Peel as to where they were going with this.
I think my biggest problem with the film though is with Candyman himself. Filling Toby Todd’s shoes is quite difficult to do and I will say Michael Hargrove is a good casting choice, he definitely has the look down. They did a very good job with making him look like Candyman, he suits the hook for his hand very well, and the big puffy coat. He certainly can look menacing but nothing about Candyman feels hypnotic in this film. If you go back to the first film, Toby Todd’s version of the character almost feels like a dream-like figure, he almost draws you in. His fascination with Helen in the first film is one of the best parts of that film, and he has a lot more personality than your average horror movie villains. Hargrove certainly can do most of that, and they do try to do a lot with modern effects to give that dream-like effect from the first film, but for whatever reason Hargrove is not really allowed to talk in this film, which means he just becomes another movie killer. There is not much personality to this version of Candyman, and he does not really get one until the end of the film.
I know I comment a lot about films being too long, but this film feels too short. I wouldn’t be surprised if there had been some cuts made to this film or some studio mandates because it only lasts about an hour and a half. I think they could have done with a bit more time, and by the time it had finished, I was thinking I wanted more. You could also nit-pick the hell out of this film and say that the film doesn’t exactly abide by the rules that it lays out, but honestly you’d be dissecting this film a little too much for the wrong reasons, and also the other films weren’t exactly great at being their own internal logic either. But again, they are still good films with decent writers with good characters and this means people are more likely to forgive a few shaky plot holes. I think the thing that really sold this film for me was the lead up to the arrival of Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (in the role of Anthony). He really nails this performance, and there are a lot of other good performances in the film too. I really appreciated Teyonah Parris’ performance as Brianna, and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett actually did a really good American accent (which I wasn’t aware he could do as I’m used to seeing him from his days in Misfits). I really liked acts like Colman Domingo in the film, and despite not being given enough to do in this film, Michael Hargrove could actually make a very good Candyman, if he was allowed to show off a bit more personality. My only real problem with this film is that it is a bit too much of a generic slasher in parts. There was one kill sequence in particular where I thought, you could probably take this out of the film, and it probably wouldn’t make too much of a difference, it felt like it was made for the trailer instead.
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