Candyman (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Candyman is back….

Nia DaCosta’s latest film “Candyman”, a sequel to Barnard Rose’s iconic 1992 film of the same name, is a spooky genre reconstruction which tries both old and new stuffs. While staying fairly faithful to the dark and disturbing aspects of the 1992 film, the movie also attempts some fresh new ideas and variations, and it is mostly successful even though it occasionally seems to be trying to handle a bit too many things together within its rather short running time (91 minutes).

After the unnerving prologue scene set in the Cabrini-Green Housing project of Chicago in 1977, the movie promptly moves forward to 2019, and we are introduced to a young African American visual artist named Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Although his career has not advanced much while he keeps trying to find any new artistic inspiration, things are mostly fine for Anthony at present mainly thanks to his supportive girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), and they have been happy together in their new residence located in Cabrini-Green.

Through Brianna’s older brother, Anthony comes to learn a bit more about the old dark history of Cabrini-Green, which was once one of the most notorious neighborhoods in the city due to crime and poverty. When Brianna’s older brother tells about a certain notorious incident depicted in the 1992 film and how that horrible incident was associated with a mysterious figure named Candyman, Anthony becomes quite intrigued to say the least, so he subsequently decides to look here and there around Cabrini-Green for getting some inspiration he really needs now.

Although Cabrini-Green has been changed a lot since that incident (I remember well how it looked quite plain and ordinary when I observed it from the distance during my three-week visit to Chicago in April 2010), there is still a shabby abandoned area which has not been gentrified yet, and Anthony cannot help but feel unnerved as looking into this area, just like when the plucky doctorate candidate heroine of the 1992 film did while doing her field research around the Cabrini-Green Housing project. He later meets a resident who gladly tells him a lot about not only Cabrini-Green but also Candyman and the dark historical background surrounding this mysterious figure, and that eventually gives Anthony the inspiration for his next work to be installed at a local art gallery where his girlfriend works.

While Anthony is quite disappointed with not getting enough attention and praise for his latest work, strange things begin to happen around him not long after he did something not so wise. Still not that serious about Candyman and the gruesome myth behind this figure, he casually called Candyman no less than five times, and, what do you know, he subsequently becomes disturbed more and more as it seems to him that Candyman does exist after all.

As Anthony desperately tries to understand what the hell is really going on around him, the screenplay by DaCosta and her co-writers Win Rosenfeld and Jordan Peele (He also served as one of the producers of the film, by the way) throws one disturbing moment after another along the story. There are several skillful scary scenes where mirror is effectively utilized for suspense and terror, and I also like how DaCosta and her cinematographer John Guleserian bring extra spookiness to the film via the visually striking presentation of a number of recognizable Chicago skyscrapers in foggy nocturnal background. As a guy who photographed lots of small and big building in the downtown area of Chicago besides Willis Tower in 11 years ago, I surely appreciate this impressive visual touch recurring throughout the movie.

In addition to having a little naughty fun with the world of art galleries and critics inhabited by Anthony and several other characters including his girlfriend (I can attest to you that you may come across such hipster folks like them when you drop by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago or those posh local galleries located in the West Side area of the city), the movie also explores several timely social subjects including racism and gentrification, and DaCosta makes an interesting artistic choice of presenting a number of flashback scenes via shadow puppetry animation. Although it stumbles more than once when it subsequently goes further from what has been gradually developed via these flashback scenes, the movie makes some clear and forthright points on its main subjects, and that is why you really need to stay during its end credits, which is more or less than the summary of its sincere and passionate reconstruction job on the Candyman myth established in the 1992 film.

The main cast members of the movie are engaging to watch, though I wish the movie allowed a bit more space for their characters to breath. While Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who has been more notable since his prominent supporting turns in “Aquaman” (2018) and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (2020), earnestly carries the film, Teyonah Parris and Colman Domingo are solid as usual in their respective substantial parts, and it is surely nice to see some of the main cast members of the 1992 film contributing a bit to the film.

In conclusion, “Candyman” is a competent horror film besides being a successful sequel to the 1992 film, which was unfortunately followed by two forgettable sequels without which we can live. Although the 1992 film is still more intriguing and terrifying in comparison, the movie mostly succeeds in doing its own stuffs, and DaCosta, who previously made “Little Woods” (2018), confirms here that she is indeed one of the most interesting African American filmmakers to watch.

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