14 June 2024

Film Review – Candyman (2021)

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When is a sequel not a sequel? When is a reboot not a reboot or a sequel? When is a reinvention not a sequel despite having the exact same title? As Austin Powers said trying to work out the complex paradigms: “Oh no, I’ve gone cross-eyed!” Becoming something of a fad amongst modern redefinitions, we have had a new Halloween film called, somewhat perplexingly, Halloween. We’ve had a new Shaft with the previous two Shafts called, ahem, Shaft. And now, decades after its initial inception, we have a new interpretation of Candyman called, wait for it… Candyman. It works for remixing and covering songs by various artists, but unless it’s a remake, this is all rather confusing. Maybe this writer is being too pedantic and unfair but it’s a very strange way of doing things. Then again, when such films are as sensational as the new Candyman, all such sins are forgiven.

Spiritual sequel is the correct phrasing for the new, updated scarer and tells of artist Anthony (a sensational Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his artistic curator partner Brianna (Teyonah Parris) who have just bought a new apartment. Anthony is working on a new piece for a show Brianna is bringing together but is told he needs to go deeper in his representations. He then stumbles across the Chicago urban legend of Candyman, a hook-handed, sweet-giving evil that has lurked in the city for centuries. Inspired by its connections to his lower-class childhood and passion for the history of The Projects, he creates “Say His Name”, a piece he hopes will cement his place as one of the art world’s big up-and-comers. He is half right.

Brought to life anew by the stellar team of director Nia DaCosta and producer Jordan Peele (both of whom co-wrote the script with Win Rosenfeld), Candyman’s prevalence, importance and literal creepy crawly nature is as piercing and symbiotic as it ever was, fuelled by an ever-changing world that only seems to alter where it is seen to be convenient. We know why some things never change but we will all continue to bang the drum for right and, as Get Out, Us and countless other crucial (and hopefully influential) modern works have done, this is the latest in the queue.

This is a horror film, of course, and does play out from that arena – it does, at times, fall foul to genre tropes but we’ll allow it – yet this isn’t about the jump scares or the bloody splatter (there is plenty for those asking, mind you). It’s in the horrors of our reflections where DaCosta’s film firmly plants its feet as she and her fellow filmmakers tackle inequality, gentrification, racial injustice, police brutality and social unrest, many themes that still, no matter how much we shake the goalposts, are somehow still moving in the wrong direction.

Whether you want to explore the themes and subtext or your mind just wants to be shit scared, what is clear is how talented a filmmaker DaCosta is and why she was getting so much praise even before this one. At turns beautiful and poetic in nature, her direction is as much of an artwork as any of those on show in the showcases Anthony strives to be alongside.

From its mirrored opening credits to the topsy-turvy meanders through the streets of Chicago as if we are being dragged along the ground like many of those who have been victimised across the world, DaCosta wants us to look up and take notice, echoing Kubrick, Nolan and, in one scene, even a nod to David Cronenburg for good measure. The composition of shots and sequences are exquisite and extraordinary in equal measure, propelled by John Guleserian’s majestic camerawork, Carl Brower’s sublime production design or Robert A.A. Lowe’s piercing score, forming some of the year’s most memorable images. Just don’t look in the mirror – you might not like what stares back at you.


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