Violence is a Ritual: Candyman (2021) - Reviewed

The original Candyman (1992) has aged elegantly, and its haunting portrayal of racial violence and generational trauma still has resonance today. Director Nia DaCosta takes a modern approach to these themes with her version of Candyman, and also adds some intriguing lore to the universe in the process.

The Cabrini Green projects from the first film have been gentrified and the towers torn down. Artist Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Paris) live together in a fancy loft in Cabrini. Brianna is a successful art gallery director who has been trying to get Anthony recognition as an artist with limited success. Feeling uninspired, Anthony decides to explore the Candyman urban legend, to perhaps tap into the emotions to further his art. Unfortunately, Anthony gets sucked into the dark and demonic spell of the story and must find his way out before it consumes him completely.

This new take on Candyman is a direct response to the first film, a mirror reflection running parallel with the themes of the original work. Where the 1992 film is from the viewpoint of a white woman, DaCosta's version centers everything on the black experience--instead of looking in, we are now looking out. It changes the dynamic quite a bit, giving more edge and bite to the social commentary. Cabrini Green has changed over the years and so has society, some things are better, but many things have not improved. DaCosta explores the new challenges inherent in modern race relations like authenticity, cultural appropriation, and police brutality. 

Generational trauma is the main theme here--the idea that racial violence perpetuated on the young enables an endless loop of pain and suffering. Each generation has their own version of the Candyman, as he is the personification of righteous anger and a seething buzzing hate directed outward from unacknowledged wrongs. DaCosta's Candyman is a tragedy, a film that posits that the cycle as of now hasn't been broken and that we have initiated yet another loop.

The biggest issue with this film is the pacing, especially in the third act. It feels rushed, the narrative would have benefited from an extra twenty minutes or so to let it breathe. I found some of the exposition to be clunky as well, though this is mostly in the first half of the film where it tries to establish the setting and characters. As a horror film it feels a bit understated, it takes awhile to get to the kills but the gore is handled well. There is a nice bit of body horror going on with Anthony's character and one kill sequence in particular towards the end is beautiful in its execution and implications. 

The film is well shot with excellent cinematography and lighting choices and the musical score by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe feels appropriately dreamy and haunting with its soft arpeggios dancing over top of the visuals. A theater company called Manual Cinema provided gorgeous shadow puppet animation for some of the flashback sequences in the film and these are incredibly creative and adds to the "storybook" feel of the tale.

DaCosta's Candyman is new take on the franchise that has a voice all its own that raises important questions and adds a modern flair to an old favorite.

--Michelle Kisner