Saturday, September 18, 2021

Say His Name: Candyman (2021)

Candyman (2021)
Rating: ***
Starring: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett

Personally, Bernard Rose's Candyman (1992) will forever remain as one of the many slasher masterpieces I have the good will and grace to experience; I love its gothic, modern fairy tale-esque direction, how it utilized the power of belief and legends to create a memorable, psuedo-romantic horror figure, as well as how it subtly uses the subtext of black oppression to create a level of depth and atmosphere to its approach in horror. This being said, I really wanted director Nia DaCosta's "spiritual sequel" to work, at least, all the way.

Struggling to find a spark of inspiration for his latest work, Chicago artist Anthony McCoy decided to wander around Cabrini-Green after hearing about an urban legend surrounding a graduate student who went on a killing spree back in the 1990s and was eventually stopped right before she was about to throw an infant into a bonfire outside the house projects. It is there where he meets William Burke, a laundromat owner who introduces him to yet another legend; the Candyman.

According to Burke, his Candyman was an eccentric hook-handed man named Sherman Fields, believed to be responsible for putting razor blades in sweets after a girl found one in her Halloween stash. It wasn't long before overzealous police corners and beats Sherman to death but, much to everyone's horror, the man was later revealed innocent when more razorblades were found in sweets after his murder. It is then said that by saying "Candyman" five times in in front of a mirror, a now undead Sherman will come to murder those who called for him through this little ritual.

Now inspired to do a collection based on the Candyman legend and racial tension, Anthony develops an art exhibit with the help of his art gallery director girlfriend, Brianna Cartwright. The resulting showcase, unfortunately, wasn't the buzzing success he was hoping it would be, but Anthony will soon find out that he may have unleashed something powerful when those who tried calling out for Candyman start to get horribly murdered and he himself appears to be deteriorating physically after a bee stung him. Soon, Anthony learns the horrific truth about his past and what fate awaits him back at Cabrini-Green...

Let me just go on the record and say that I love the idea that Candyman here is, as described in the film, a hive. It just fits the killer's nature as an urban legend embodied, how there will never be only one version of the tale and that there's always be a varying take based on whoever's telling them, all the while the strongest key elements remain the same. The Candyman is no longer just a lone murderer from beyond the grave in this movie, but is now also a catalyst that leads to people like Sherman Fields and many other African American figures hinted later, all victims of prejudice and racial hate, to wear the cloak and wield the hook.

This is a wide and welcome move to expand the world behind the iconic supernatural slasher and I really wished Candyman (2021) found a way to make this work into the story to full effect but thanks to the writing's lack of cohesiveness and focus, and too its missed opportunities to be subtle and flair, this lore ended up something closer to a footnote that wouldn't come up again until the near end where it may have gone a little too on-the-nose with what it is implying. 

Until then, we're practically treated with a supernatural psychological mystery that hovers mostly on our main lead's ties to the Candyman legend and his declining state the further he delves into the rabbit hole, coupled with slasher murders and body horror nightmares. I will say that this attempt of a mystery is as predictable and basic as the characters involved (If you already saw The Midnight Meat Train (2008) and The Devil's Candy (2015), then you may have a clue or two what troubles our artist lead is heading to), even leaving some doors open and just hang them there without any form of resolution or point, but at least it is comfortable enough to sit through as your typical slasher story and the talents involved, particularly Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris and Colman Domingo as Anthony, Brianna and William Burke respectively, did all their best to put out a fine performance despite the standard characterizations. 

Visually, Candyman (2021) is a real treat to the eyes at its best, probably the movie's strongest point with its stylized depictions of the Candyman murders, the history surrounding the figure and even the legend himself; when it needs to be bloody, it gets real bloody, but the film isn't shy on experimenting with what can be done without overly relying on anything graphic on screen. The result is a lot of striking compositions of shots and sounds, among the best being a massacre in a girl's bathroom wherein we can see just a glimpse of a floating Candyman through a bloodied compact mirror, as well as an eerily shot death of a critic who we see gets lifted and murdered above ground by an invisible force while the camera pans away.

Intriguing to note, too, how the Candyman is shown here as he barely appeared completely on the flesh whenever he kills and he's depicted instead as a shadow, a reflection in the background or, as mentioned prior, just an unseen force drags you away to be hooked from groin to gullet.  Whenever he does appear onscreen, he's more of a specter and an omen haunting Anthony, a sort of foreshadow of things to come doubled as your classic, creepy grinning spook straight out of your ghost stories. If there's anything more to praise, the last few shots of the Candyman are probably the most memorable for me; just a floating man in a coat, a hook for a hand and a swarm of bees for a head. That's Eldritch imagery at its best and I love it!

The use of shadow puppets is also a creative touch I come to really like from the film, perfectly bringing the folkloric touch out of the legends and stories about he who is the writing on the wall, the whisper in the classroom. Add the fact that the ending credits is also a short puppet show featuring all the previous variants of the Candyman just makes the overall film a little bit better despite the flaws.

A far cry from being the perfect companion piece to the original Candyman (well, for me at least), Candyman (2021) is still a commendable ole' "college try" to bring back and partially re-invent a horror icon for the modern audience. It has a good eye on style and atmosphere, plus an interesting take on a slasher heavyweight's mythos, just be prepared for some loose, unresolved and kinda undercooked ends.

1 male beaten to death (flashback)
1 female had her throat cut with a hook
1 male had his heel hooked, later found disemboweled
1 male jumps out of a window (flashback)
1 female had her head smashed and dragged across a window
1 female slaughtered offcamera with a hook
1 female slaughtered offcamera with a hook
1 female slaughtered offcamera with a hook
1 female slaughtered offcamera with a hook
1 female slaughtered with a hook (flashback)
1 male stabbed to death with a box cutter
1 male shot dead
1 male seen walking out with a gashed neck
1 male slashed across the gut with a hook
1 male had his throat slashed with a hook
1 male slashed across with a hook
1 male hacked on the back with a hatchet(animation)
1 boy executed via electric chair (animation)
1 male tied behind a truck, dragged to death (animation)
1 male hacked on the back with a hook (animation)
1 male hacked on the head with a hook (animation)
1 male ran through the back with a hook (animation)
1 male snared and murdered with a hook (animation)
Total: 23

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