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‘Candyman’ (2021) review: A frightening update to the horror classic

Is there new life towards the urban legend from Cabrini–Green?

In the last decade, we have seen a number of “legacy sequels”, such as Tron: LegacyBlade Runner 2049 and perhaps the ultimate legacy sequel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Horror franchises have definitely taken a cue from this approach, in which direct sequels to the original instalment were made, but ignored all the other sequels, most notably David Gordon Green’s Halloween in 2018. And now it seems Candyman – about the boogeyman who appears when you say his name five times in the mirror – has gone through a similar treatment under the auspices of co-writer/producer Jordan Peele

Bernard Rose’s original film in 1992, which was based on Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden”, centered on an urban legend (played to such chilling effect by Tony Todd) connected to a series of murders at the Cabrini–Green Homes in Chicago and how its African-American residents attribute their hardships to this mythical figure. Both grim and powerful, the original, imperfect Candyman was certainly a product of its time. It ultimately centers on a white savior (despite the racial politics, the part was brilliantly played by Virginia Madsen) to anchor the whole film. 

The story of the original film is told here via a misinterpreted urban legend (through one of the several flashbacks done in shadow puppetry), which becomes an inspiration for Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a visual artist who is desperate for a creative spark and thus roams around Cabrini-Green, prompting his next project. Becoming more obsessed over the legend that is Candyman, Anthony starts to lose his mind, whilst not realizing that he has brought back the supernatural terror that will terrorize Chicago. 

Director/co-writer Nia DaCosta has said how her sequel turns the white-savior narrative on its head, by reflecting on the decades-long history of racial injustice. This is also used in how it is reflected on the Candyman, who was an artist and the son of an enslaved person who was murdered in the late 19th century for his relationship with the daughter of a wealthy white man. This sequel honors the original’s mythos whilst expanding upon it, adding more context to the social commentary that also feels reflective with what Jordan Peele has been doing with his directorial features. 

Although you can see Peele’s influence of mixing social commentary with horror (and even a touch of humor), it is DeCosta’s striking direction that makes the film feel unique, despite the subtle nods to Bernard Rose’s original, such as the use of Philip Glass’ chilling score. The deaths are gory as one would expect with a killer that uses a hook attached to the bloody stump of his right arm, but it is how DeCosta uses the camera that can cleverly misdirect you about where the horror element is going to come in. Along with John Guleserian’s stunning cinematography and Robert A. A. Lowe’s atmospheric score, there is a constant sense of unease that complements our main character’s psychological meltdown. 

The film may lean too much on familiar horror tropes, despite a few moments of self-awareness, the biggest criticism is towards the supporting cast, which fall into the cliché of pretentious figures in the art world. They may not be as sufferable as the characters in Netflix’s Velvet Buzzsaw, largely because they are killed in glorious and bloody effect, but it’s a good thing that Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is the main focus going through a transformation that is horrific and tragic as Jeff Goldblum in The Fly.

‘Candyman’ (2021) review: A frightening update to the horror classic
Both Nia DeCosta and Jordan Peele bring new life to a horror franchise that has not been around since the end of the last millennium, with a sequel that updates the racial politics of before, whilst having the elements you’d expect from Peele’s filmography.
Reader Rating0 Votes
Sharp and haunting direction by Nia DeCosta
Updates the original film's social mythos, allowing social commentary that is so relevant today.
A terrific physical performance from Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
The horror is both atmospheric and gory...
...even though at times, it leans on familiar tropes, despite moments of self-awareness.
The supporting cast are annoying archetypes of the pretentious modern art world.

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