MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Kyle Kaminsky, Vanessa Williams, Tony Todd, Rebecca Spence, Michael Hargrove, Brian King, Carl Clemons-Hopkins, Christiana Clark, Torrey Hanson, Breanna Lind, Cedric Mays, Nancy Pender, Pam Jones, Hannah Love Jones; Voice of: Virginia Madsen/Runtime: 91 minutes
“If you look in the mirror and say his name five times, he’ll appear behind you breathing down your neck and proceed to gut you with his hook”. Sounds like a very pleasant individual in all honesty. Jokes aside however, this is the whisper that is heard most often in franchise of horror films that started all the way back in 1992 and which deal with an entity known as Candyman. Yet despite the mirror seemingly cracking beyond repair back in 1995 with Candyman: Day of the Dead, I guess some legends really never do die after all. It is with that in mind that we are now, after all this time, getting a 4th entry in this franchise with the distinct narrative hook (pun intended) that this slice of horror cinema is taking a cue from 2018’s Halloween follow-up and proving to be a direct sequel to the original film. Suffice it to say that, having seen the finished product, this entry helmed by Nia DaCosta more than assuredly has earned the right to be called a worthy follow-up to an iconic albeit underappreciated horror gem. I say that because while yes you could make the argument that this sequel is in many ways a present day updating of the original story, and yes it most assuredly does pay tribute to everything that has come before it, this slice and dice of horror cinema also manages to uncover some truly iconic concepts that the franchise had barely scratched the surface of before thus giving us a film that is creative, very thought-provoking and thankfully very unnerving and spine-tingling in all the right ways.
The plot is as follows: Candyman follows a couple consisting of skilled yet suffering from painter’s block artist by the name of Anthony and his gallery owning girlfriend Brianna as they are in the midst of settling in to their new condo which just happens to be at what used to be the housing projects of Cabrini-Green, but which has since given way to gentrification to do its thing. Things soon take a turn for the intriguing when, while having Brianna’s brother and his boyfriend over, our couple is regaled with the saga of Candyman. A saga that Anthony sees the potential to do something with on his canvas and thus takes it upon himself to look into the legend further. It is during this quest for answers that we see Anthony cross paths with one of the few remaining Cabrini-Green residents by the name of Burke who proceeds to give Anthony a crash course on the saga of Candyman. By that I don’t just mean the original Candyman who was an African American artist himself who was lynched and murdered simply for being in love with a white woman back in colonial times, but also about one or two other African American men who either took on or were slapped with the Candyman title over time and who also met tragically similar fates as the original. Of course, we all know that the more Anthony uncovers, the more likely it is that he is going to discover that maybe just maybe there’s more to the legends than even he could ever have anticipated…..
Now this slice and dice of horror cinema, before anything else, is one which deals with how events from the past can continue to have an impact long after they are done so the fact that it takes quite a few narrative beats from the other chapters in this story isn’t all that surprising. What is surprising and delightfully refreshing though is how the throwbacks in this aren’t exclusively just characters or things that happened already. A great example of this is how this movie makes the intriguing choice to work with the idea first hypothesized by Helen in the very first movie that stated that Candyman is a way for African American communities to cope with the daily injustices that they face in their lives whilst also still viewing Candyman himself as a paranormal menace that can be summoned a’la Bloody Mary. It is through this perspective that we see the 2021 stab of Candyman become a terrifying yet potent film about people deal with pain on both a group and individual level. Indeed we really can’t just simply bury pain and expect things to fix themselves without coming to terms with it or facing it in a head on manner. It is when viewing things in that respect that the character of Candyman becomes even more of a ruthless horror villain since he most assuredly is something that repeatedly comes into the consciousness of the world around us to help remind the world that there is still things we need to address both about society and about us as individuals as well. At the same time, it’s also worth noting that Helen in 1992’s Candyman was a character that found herself becoming obsessed with the legend of Candyman, got to know more about the legend than perhaps she would have liked, and finally found herself getting to be a key component of his legend in her own right. Indeed as our intrepid hero begins to learn the story of Candyman himself, it’s not exactly a spoiler to say that he begins to fall prey to the same vicious cycle that Helen and the other 2 protagonists in this franchise did even if their odyssey into this madness was both from an outside point of view and as removed from the genuine brutality at the heart of this story as you could possibly get. It is with that in mind that I will say that Yahya Abdul-Mateen II does a fantastic job in this at giving us a guy who, by and large, is quite the sympathetic character. Indeed yes there is a vibe of anguish to his hunt for answers since it’s not just about uncovering the truth behind this story, but we also pity him as we see that this quest for answers might just cost him everything as well. Yes at first the Candyman saga and the tragic legacy behind it are just things that he can exploit for his own ends, but it isn’t long before we see our hero begin to go down the very same path in many respects that Helen Lyle did thus leading us to a conclusion that is both chilling and yet oddly fulfilling as well. Indeed without negating anything that we have seen before, this movie takes its titular boogeyman and his mythos in a rivetingly new path that not only could see him viewed once more as a legend of horror cinema, but that also acts as a much needed correction this franchise needed after the much-maligned third installment.
Of course, sooner or later if you know this franchise you know that the infamous mirror chant has to come back to the world around us. Suffice it to say that the moment that it does, its revival and the inevitable repercussions for doing so are truly sweet in all the right ways. I mean make no mistake dear reader: this film is not a mystery by any stretch, heck even seeing bees in this is foreboding, but the violence that is conducted in this is wonderfully enigmatic as well. Indeed it can be visceral and it can be wink and nod (usually dependent on who is on the receiving end of the hook). Yet what distinguishes this slice and dice of horror cinema from what has come before is that this one’s deaths are not usually shown to us from the point of view of those who are dumb enough to bring Candyman into our world. Instead this one prefers to give us a outside perspective that lets us witness with anguish these people get brutally gutted by something that is only seen in the reflection of a mirror. As a result, we see that Candyman the entity is left feeling way more supernatural than at nearly any point in this series and his springing forth from artwork and buildings just really manages to talk to all the aspects that brutal and bloody violence can impact a locale. Yet lest you think this one goes full-on slasher I would like to let you know not to worry. That is because this one, much in the same vein as the first one, keeps the slicing and dicing at bay for quite a while and instead gives us an ominous and foreboding analysis on how people and the tales they regale one another with can often be molded by the world around them. A feat that is made possible by the fact that the creative team behind the camera always try to make sure that you, the viewer have a fairly good comprehension not only about how each individual moves when on camera, but also how they function in each locale that we see them in before the camera zooms in on them exclusively. It’s also worth noting that this movie’s composer Mr. Robert A.A. Lowe also does a wonderful job at getting pathos from physical locations and whilst his score does in many respects pay tribute to the top-notch work done on the first two by Philip Glass, he also gives us moments where the music literally makes you feel like something is waiting to come forward right from the city itself.
All in all I’m not gonna lie to you dear reader: the 2021 Candyman is a slice and dice of horror cinema that is designed to stay with you a good long while. More than that, this is one that is designed to sneak up on you when you look at yourself in the mirror and politely yet firmly ask you to analyze the truth being showcased to you, the viewer that yes you may be aware of it, but that doesn’t mean you want to be reminded of it. It is with that in mind that this part throwback, part modern retooling entry in the Candyman saga is an ominous visit down the rabbit hole into a brutal and visceral past that, much like the titular character, refuses to die. Yes, much like the other 2 follow-ups, this one does contribute a few novel twists and turns to the overall story, but it also throws it for a loop in ways that are wonderfully refreshing yet also fit in perfectly with everything that we have seen so far. Therefore, go ahead and look in that mirror and say his name five times. I promise you’ll appreciate what you see. On a scale of 1-5 I give Candyman “2021” a solid 3.5 out of 5.