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Candyman ⋆⋆⋆

A bold continuation of the 1992 horror classic with some pitfalls.

Image for Candyman ⋆⋆⋆

Photo: UPI

A bold continuation of the 1992 horror classic with some pitfalls.

Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman… Nope, not going to roll those dice. However, you can dare to go see 2021’s Candyman.

Which is saying a lot, considering you never know with horror remakes or “spiritual sequels”, which this film is billed as. They can fall in two broad categories: either a complete waste of time that risks dirtying the original’s good name, or a refreshing new spin that expands the lore of the original. For every decent reimagining, there’s a The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), a Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), or a Halloween (2018) – the latter of which, while decent and not as pointless as the other remakes, essentially contented itself in being more of the same without truly bringing anything that exciting to the Myers mythos.

Nia DaCosta’s Candyman doesn’t fall into that trap. Mind you, nor does it sit alongside the likes of The Invisible Man or Suspiria as an update that truly gets it right; it’s a mixed bag that’s part ambitious continuation to the 1992 horror classic that’ll make you hide your mirrors, part clunky thematic exercise that won’t make you check for bees.

In the tradition of the aforementioned Halloween revival, Candyman discards all the sequels and positions itself as a direct follow-up to the original (while annoyingly retaining the exact same title). Co-written with Get Out’s Jordan Peele (who also produces), DaCosta’s Candyman sees the grim Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago transformed into upscale apartments and condominiums. However, the word-of-mirror urban legend Candyman, which haunted the housing projects, can’t be gentrified out of existence, as artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) soon discovers when he starts to harness the myth in order to revive his stalling painting career.

The character of Candyman was never just a hooked villain with a troubling apocrita penchant. The original knew this and was much more than a surface-level supernatural chiller: it haunted you while its undercurrents dealt with class, racial persecution and a dollop of white-saviourism. DaCosta re-centres the narrative around the Black experience and deepens the social and racial allegory to echo the real-life victims of racial injustice. She makes the film a message-driven one about the trauma of unwilling martyrs and how their stories should be told, a way of taking back a narrative that has been hijacked by those who have oppressed or seek to vilify.

Doing so, in this case, has come to the detriment of a satisfyingly tight plot and lasting horror. Not that there aren’t some satisfying chills here: Nia DaCosta has a flare for the creepy, using shadow puppets and reflective surfaces in a chillingly effective way. These elements reward a big-screen watch, as they dare you to peer deeper into the frame in order to catch an unsettling detail lurking in the background. However, for all its artful visuals, you can’t help but feel this was more about ideas than scares. As such, the end result cleverly expands the lore and crucially never betrays the original; but while 1992 had subtext, 2021 has…text. What’s left is an unsubtle but effective meditation on racial violence and the mythologizing of past trauma, one that’s often too didactic to be as ferociously effective as one might have hoped. Still, a bold continuation that discourages you to say his name five times and a sequel that would make for a fine double-bill with Bernard Rose’s original… which is no faint praise.

Candyman / Directed by Nia DaCosta (US, 2021), with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo. Starts August 26.