The original Candyman came out in 1992, nearly 30 years later and the story still has present day applications. In Bernard Rose’s adaption of Clive Barker’s short story the focus was on Helen Lyle, a white woman who was on the outside of the legend, looking in to learn more. That film is a genre defying cult classic, this new vision only builds on top of that.
In director Nia DaCoasta’s vision of Candyman we find the same Chicago neighborhood, but instead of being on the outside, the characters already live there. Starting with opening credits of a dark and foggy Chicago, watching the buildings go by upside down is mesmerizing and discomforting. The tone is set right off the bat. Cabrini Green isn’t the same projects that we see in ’92, the towers have been torn down and it has been gentrified beyond recognition. Artists Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Brianna (Teyona Parris) now living in a swanky condo within Cabrini Green are aware of their surroundings saying, “The white people built the ghetto, and then erased it when they realized they built the ghetto.” What they are not aware of, is the haunted past.
With Abdul-Mateen’s Anthony as the central character DaCosta is able to dive right into her world. Anthony is an established and known artist, but he’s in a rut a looking for something to give him that extra inspiration. When he hears about the Candyman legend he is drawn to it as a possible source for new art. His interest turns into obsession and Candyman is born again.
Anthony’s journey of discovery has several layers. On the surface, he finds out more about himself and his own origins, but it’s also a journey of Cabrini Greens demise and all the lives that were taken as a result of the systemic racial divide within the city.
Candyman is the perfect analogy for the bubbling rage that is no longer just below the surface. It puts into focus the reaction of a community that has been mistreated and brutalized for far too long. Whereas the original film had the point of view of an outsider, this is the opposite, giving an intimate view of what it’s like to live the legend. Every kid growing up in Cabrini Green throughout the years has a different Candyman story of a black man who was murdered as a result of racial injustice. The reciprocal violence digs deep in the psyche of those affected and writers Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld, and Nia DaCosta have created such a vivid portrayal of these experiences under the guise of a horror film.
Candyman works as a horror film and a psychological thriller. There is brutal violence and buckets of blood, but there is a headier, more nuanced layer about racial inequality that is just as powerful. Jordan Peele’s influence is clearly felt, but DaCosta’s voice is definitely coming in loud and clear. This is her film.
With some of the most striking visuals you will see this year, gorgeously lit and framed, DaCosta has not only built on the legacy of its predecessor, but thrown down the gauntlet and will no doubt be a sought-after director in the years to come.
4 out of 5