‘Candyman’ Movie Review: Say His Name
From co-writer and producer Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions comes Nia DaCosta’s Candyman, a soft reboot of the 1990’s franchise. DaCosta was recently tapped by Disney to helm two new Marvel projects after her directorial debut, Little Woods, received critical acclaim. Peele has also made quite the name for himself in the past few years. Originally hailing from a comedic background, he co-created the sketch comedy show Key and Peele before stepping into the film industry with the beautifully horrific Get Out in 2017. Peele‘s signature style consists of taking pertinent social justice issues and morphing them into socio-political horror films that shock the viewer to their core. This methodology is written all over Candyman, but it fails to recapture the lightning in a bottle that is Get Out.
Opening with a flashback, we see the run-down Cabrini-Green on a sunny afternoon. A boy reluctantly ventures down into the laundry room, amidst the flickering lights, he discovers an ominous hole in the wall. He approaches with trepidation, and we hear a clatter on the floor: a single piece of candy. Panning back to the wall, a groaning man with a hook for a hand emerges into the dimly illuminated room. Cut to the present day, where Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Andrew McCoy finds himself struggling to come up with an idea for a new art piece. Through a story told by his girlfriend’s brother during a housewarming party, he learns of the legend of the Candyman, a tale deeply intertwined with racial injustice in the area. Amid his research, McCoy reawakens the man, and a series of murders sets our story on its course.
In terms of horror, Candyman is unique. It’s a quiet, somber film, relying on dramatic irony instead of the traditional jump-scare. One thing that it isn’t, however, is boring. The 91-minute runtime forces the story to hit the ground running and maintain a swift pace throughout. Given its seemingly straightforward, but deeply layered script, this well-managed rhythm lends itself well to allowing the audience to comprehend the plot with ease, making for either an enjoyable fright-filled jaunt or a disturbing social commentary, depending on how deep you‘re willing to dissect it.
Candyman also possesses a visually striking art direction, using shadow puppetry to illustrate the long-lost legend. DaCosta chose to tie this form of expression into the story’s themes by specifically emphasizing hands. While the meaning was left ambiguous, I interpreted it as representing certain groups being controlled by others, which is illustrated by the fact that DaCosta and Peele opted to highlight police brutality against people of color in the film, which is an ever-prevalent issue plaguing our society that has been the topic of much discussion over the past year. Furthermore, the story posed a few more angles that most might not consider when diving into these issues, ranging from the concept of what makes up “the ghetto” to the lack of exposure for artists of color.
On a side note, I’d like to bring up a small detail that irked me quite a bit. In this slasher film, believe it or not, people die. What confused me was that, while quite a few of the characters are revealed to be burdened by loss, they display little emotion in response to the murderous spree that Candyman is on. One unfortunate result of the short runtime is the lack of character development. Make no mistake, I found all the characters to have completely believable motivations behind their actions, but the vast majority of them felt like hollow plot devices. Wittily, Nia DaCosta utilized one single conversation to attach the audience to these people. Said conversation is, to be frank, one of the most well-directed scenes in the entire film. Within it, Brianna’s brother shares the legend of Candyman (as I referenced earlier), but the key to the magic of this sequence stems from the camerawork. DaCosta frames the scene as if the viewer were sitting in a chair across from the characters, using very few cuts (I was immediately reminded of Japanese filmmaker Yasujirou Ozu and his “tatami shots”). Between the camera placement, lack of music, and (mostly) natural dialogue, the audience feels intimately involved in the conversation, the legend, and by extension, the characters.