When I first started watching horror films there were three that scared me to the core. The first was Event Horizon (1997) which I have since gone back to and enjoyed in all its nasty glory. The second was Audition (1999) which I have yet to return to as it lives rent-free in my head, thank you very much. The last was 1992’s Candyman.
I still have yet to watch the original Candyman again but thanks to director Nia DaCosta along with her co-screenwriters, Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfield, revitalising the character with their 2021 Candyman, I feel the time has come to go back to the bee infested, hook-handed, sprayer of blood.
What Is Candyman 2021 About?
What has changed? The film returns to the original setting of Cabrini-Green, Chicago except where once there were housing projects, now gentrification of the area has led to fancy apartments and well to do artist residents.
The story of ‘the Candyman’ has mostly faded away save for a new urban legend about the crazed actions of Helen Lyle (the original movie’s protagonist). Directionless visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) digs into the legend for material, but in doing so breathes new life into the method of summoning the Candyman himself.
The central core of Candyman –the injustices suffered by the black community in the face of prejudice and persecution – remains within the dialogue and history of the story told, if less so within the current day plot.
DaCosta ensures that each character has something to say about gentrification (and gives a subtext-laden sneer to the white art critic who dismisses McCoy’s work), but this struggles to latch on to the actual Candyman character (or society that gives life to him) given how we never see the effects of such practices.
Candyman 2021 Official Trailer
Is Candyman 2021 Worth Watching?
A similar disconnect comes from the Candyman himself. Originally played with vulpine lethality by Tony Todd, his deep bass tones gave the character voice to hiss out his motivation: the innocent must die as people had forgotten to fear him.
Primarily represented by Michael Hargrove as a hook-handed man beaten to death by police in 1977 for a crime he didn’t commit, the 2021 Candyman is silent; when the slaughter mounts no motivation is offered beyond ‘they said his name’.
As a result, Candyman feels like two stories that fail to mesh; the social commentary knocks at the door of the horror aspect but never really shakes hands with it.
Plot-wise events are tied to the previous movie neatly, and DaCosta does great work in showcasing the fragmenting mental state of McCoy as those around him get slashed to pieces.
Abdul-Mateen II fits into his role beautifully. His picking at his own inadequacies until there is a hole big enough for something primal to crawl into drives your connection to the movie and grounds it away from pure gorefest.
Not that the gore is particularly strong as DaCosta favours obscured view points and implied carnage for the most part. This is all wrapped up in a wonderful interwoven puppet art direction that gives disturbing life to the concept of a living story.
Ultimately though Candyman fails to regrasp the stinging nettle of its originator. It isn’t scary enough or cohesive enough to fully deliver its armful of ideas.
It is, instead, a cleanly presented treatise on the importance of collective narrative.
As a group, the story we choose to carve out, such as presumed guilt or innocence, can overwrite the facts with dangerous consequences. The consequence of this movie, however, is that I am finally ready to go back to Tony Todd for his version of the story.
Words by Mike Record