Film review: ‘THE CANDYMAN’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The original 1992 version of The Candyman, which was based on Clive Barker’s story The Forbidden, formed part of the early 90’s urban legend horror genre which repurposed the slasher movie into a kind of cultural myth designed to reflect the anxieties of a particular community.  Notably, that community was African Americans who had normally been on the periphery of a horror genre dominated by white suburban families and horny teens.  In that film, a graduate student (Virginia Madsen) researching the story of the ghostly title character, stupidly summoned him by repeating his name five times while looking in the mirror.  Wielding the deadly hook that has replaced his hand, the titular Candyman went on a murderous rampage slaughtering the residents of a mostly African American housing estate called Cabrini Green.

The new version, essentially a sequel, picks up the story of Anthony McCoy, the youngster rescued from the Candyman in the original film.  Now a provocative and disgruntled young artist, Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is unaware of his links to the Cabrini Green story but is drawn by its connection to the local African American experience.  After learning of the Candyman legend and frivolously repeating the magic words five times he unwittingly unleashes the bloodthirsty, hook-handed fiend upon the neighbourhood.

Directed by Nia DaCosta and written by her, Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld, this remake cum sequel attempts to link the Candyman legend to contemporary issues such as gentrification of neighbourhoods and loss of community and disturbing current events such as the ongoing impact of white police violence against African American people.  The expression ‘say his name’ has resonances beyond repeating the word ‘Candyman’ here.  While it’s refreshing to see these important issues referenced here, the script isn’t entirely successful integrating them into the story.  At times it feels like a horror film and one with a social conscience awkwardly glued together.  Consequently, the film’s political message isn’t as coherent and powerful as it could have been but this message carries just enough impact to make the slasher element seem a bit frivolous.

Still, there are impressive aspects to this film’s take on the horror genre.  DaCosta evokes Dario Argento with her use of the art world setting, her stylishly composed shots and her tone of sophisticated creepiness.  She also makes fine use of ambient sounds, intense orchestral stabs and an electronic score to occasionally create a threatening and enclosing atmosphere.  There are also nice touches such as the Candyman backstory being described through shadow puppet fantasy sequence although this is very reminiscent of the one in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II gives a more nuanced and introspective performance than we usually see in the often trashy sub-genre of the slasher film and he receives solid support from the rest of the cast.

This is a brave attempt at giving a mostly exploitative genre more substance but while technically impressive and well made, it feels like a collection of ideas that didn’t entirely gel. Also, while occasionally tense, it’s not particularly scary.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Horror/ slasher.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Nia DaCosta.

Release date: 26th Aug 2021.

Running time: 120 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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