Candyman is a good but flawed sequel that is sure to improve with time
“Say his name” is the message of Nia Dacosta’s new take on Candyman and it comes from a powerful and unique voice entering the world of horror. After multiple failed attempts at continuing the franchise, the Candyman is back and finally has a film worthy of the original classic’s legacy. It’s been an interesting trend of late to go back to classic horror films and retcon everything past the first entry, I have enjoyed this as it's like a what-if to the original films, the most notable of which is Halloween which I have enjoyed the new take on, Candyman probably isn’t the first series that comes to mind with this concept given the negative reception of sequels to the film in the past.
Despite this Candyman (1992) was a film that presented interesting enough ideas that it was possible to explore those in a sequel and it only took just under 30 years and 2 poorly received sequels for that to be realised.
A new but familiar take
Nia Decosta has taken the core concepts presented in the original film and expanded them to present a current social message as well as tell a new and intriguing story. This very much feels like a film that is paying respect to the original without re-treading or rehashing its beats. The narrative presented in the new film is certainly an interesting one. A photographer named Anthony becomes infatuated with the legend of Candyman when researching for his next art presentation after hitting a wall for several years, upon learning of the urban legend he tumbles down a rabbit hole that begins to consume his life, as the bodies begin to drop fast and brutally.
I’ll avoid going into too many more story details to avoid spoilers but I’ll just say that it becomes an increasingly dark Downard spiral similar to that of the original, although it has more of a nasty body horror twist. The narrative feels like a natural continuation of the original but it brings with a very unique flavour in the form of Nia Decosta’s phenomenal direction, she leans into the idea of Candyman being tied to mirrors with many of his appearances throughout the movie being shown in reflections, especially the brutal kill scenes. The opening credits do a great job of showing these reflections on a grand scale, additionally, the film's use of shadow puppets is a stroke of genius and looks fantastic, it is often used throughout the film as a storytelling device and is also used in the excellent end credits sequence.
However not everything about the film narrative and script is flawless there are a few questionable plot holes, and leaps of faith that the film asks you to take, these by no means spoil the film but they play into my main gripe with the film and that is that the conclusion feels rushed. The film only being 90 minutes feels like it's restricting the plot especially as it initially progresses at a gradual pace and then jarringly jumps into top gear at the last moment, this also hurts the execution of the films overall message which concerns issues of police brutality and racial injustice.
The message of the film certainly feels timely and relevant however the race to get to it at the end robs the film of provoking a greater discussion. Its message about police brutality is understandable and important, as such I would recommend that you look at more than one interpretation of the film, as for many this film has been deeply affecting and profound and I couldn’t be happier for that, especially given some of the egregious things that took place during the production of the original. I also feel that on rewatch the film will be much stronger.
Overall, I will say that Nia Decosta has crafted an incredibly high-profile horror film with the kind of depth and engaging scenes we don’t often get anymore, I can only hope that some of my issues may be addressed by potential directors cut as I know of at least a few scenes that are not present in the final release.
A mixed bag of performances
Where the film also struggles a little is in its performances, now for the most part they are pretty good across the board. with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II being the clear standout, offering a sympathetic portrayal of a struggling artist who feels trapped by the art world constantly being asked to relieve his “history” as a newcomer to his work has not seen Watchmen or US he is certainly someone I’ll be looking out for in future films.
However, where the film seriously falters is in some of its side character performances, a good example being one character who after witnessing someone be slain by the Candyman and is covered in their blood asks “is this real” in the most unconcerned manner possible, it completely spoils what was a tense scene of horror. The other performance I had a pretty big problem with is the performance of Colman Domingo an actor who I enjoyed for his work on Fear the Walking dead and the first 2/3 of the film, however, for some reason in the final act, his performance takes a serious nosedive that just comes off as laughable, something I wish hadn’t happened as I enjoy seeing him onscreen. Despite my complaining about these performances, they don’t spoil the whole film but they certainly are noticeable and do hurt what was otherwise a film with fairly strong performances.
I also have an issue with the film's lack of real characterisation, Outside of Anthony journey many of the other characters either feel a little hollow or I found it hard to like them. One stand out scene in the film introduces a haunting backstory for one character, in particular, that would help explain some of their actions later on, but the film barely addresses this scene again, although I will praise the scene by itself as being a harrowing moment in the film.
Other characters either feel one note or don’t get enough time to shine, especially returning characters from the first film who feel like a little of an afterthought, although alternatively perhaps that is not what the film is trying to do, and maybe this is just something I would’ve liked to have seen more of.
Another area that the film excels in is its horror scenes, whilst the film is not downright scary it does have a few unnerving scenes and the scenes where it does go fully into its horror roots are incredibly well put together and are fantastically directed. One scene, in particular, uses the reflection of the main character in a chilling way that will make you nervous to go into the elevator by yourself.
The kill scenes themselves are also incredibly well put together each tackling its kill from a different perspective, and whilst they certainly are gory, they are never gratuitous and I wouldn’t describe this film in any way as a slasher film, it is far more of a story-driven mystery, although there is one scene that feels a little too much just like additional kills for the count, despite it also being expertly filmed. The film’s final scene gripes aside from its rushed narrative is incredibly well done and doles out some brutal justice, I just wish it wasn’t the final scene of the film.
Nia Decosta has crafted a very well-made horror film that despite its flaws honour's the original’s legacy incredibly well, it’s a film with its voice that is unafraid to put its message front and centre and regardless of how you feel the film handles it, it must be commended for being unapologetic in its delivery, there is a statement early on in the film when talking about a piece of art a character comments that it lacks nuance and room for interpretation, I think this is more of a statement to the audience especially when Anthony then replies “but how does it make you feel?”, this is a question I think viewers need to take away with them when they watch this.
If you’re looking for a horror film that’ll have you talking long after the credits this Halloween, then Candyman (2021) is the film for you, despite its issues, it’s a film that I believe I’ll appreciate more and more as time goes on and it is undeniably worthy of the Candyman name.