“Say his name!” No, I don’t think I will. Mia DaCosta’s Candyman stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, and Coleman Domingo. Part sequel and part reimagining of the first film, Candyman (2021) is about visual artist Anthony McCoy as he begins his research for his next art piece. After hearing the legend of Candyman and Helen Lyle, Anthony heads on over to Cabrini-Green, the site of the events of the first film, in hopes of finding inspiration for his next project. As he learns about the Candyman legend(s), Anthony might have finally found his next project, but in doing so, he might have also reawakened an evil that has seemingly lay dormant for 30 years. Guts are flying, blood is gushing, and bees are stinging and Anthony might have a part to play.
Candyman (2021) couldn’t have come at a more relevant time. The film’s running theme is that of black oppression and the appropriation of its victims. It’s also a film about gentrification, urban legends, and the relationship between artists and critics. Oh yeah, it’s also a slasher film! Candyman (2021) is an amalgamation of different ideas that never fully come together to form a complete thought. At times, it feels more like a college lecture than a horror film, which would’ve been fine if there had been an equal amount of scares to balance out the social commentary. On a technical level, it’s impeccable, but on a storytelling level, it leaves a lot to be desired.
Praise where praise is due, Nia DaCosta has a great eye for visuals and she does utilize them for some effective scares. DaCosta’s use of shadow puppets is the best example of “show don’t tell” that is both visually engaging and eerie while also being thematically relevant to the themes of urban legends and how we tell those stories. Stay for the credits, by the way. DaCosta also captures some super gnarly kills! I may sound like a psychopath for saying that, but what makes the kills so effective are the way they’re shot. DaCosta shoots a lot of the kills from a distance, so instead of watching the slaughter up close, all of the kills are viewed from mirrors, and windows. Speaking of distance, it’s time to talk about the characters.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II has all the makings of a movie star: he’s charismatic and built like a superhero. That being said, he’s not particularly good here and no matter how hard he tries, it doesn’t fix the fact that the character of Anthony McCoy is severely underwritten. The character has very little in terms of agency and all the events of the film happen because the plot needs them to happen. Much like the leprous sores on Anthony’s arm, you watch what little personality he had slowly decay until he fully becomes a non-entity in the third act.
Candyman (2021) will live or die based on what you make of the third act and quite frankly, the third act is a frustrating misfire. The film might not have a compelling protagonist, but Anthony is the protagonist nonetheless. Well, that is until the film suddenly changes its perspective from Anthony to Teyonah Parris’ Brianna Cartwright. For two-thirds of the film, Candyman (2021) does little to flesh out Brianna’s character which makes the sudden shift feel unearned. The third act also has characters suddenly behave irrationally and out of character. Colman Domingo is probably the best supporting performance in Candyman (2021), but the third act has his character go through a sudden personality change without any supplemental scenes to justify that transformation. The sudden character shifts and the unsubtle messaging are ultimately what burden the third act.
One of the very first shots in Candyman (2021) is a shadow puppet of a black boy being beaten by a group of police officers. The message here is obvious: cops are bad and the film brings up that message in the opening and closing acts of the film. The police officers in the third act are cartoonishly evil and serve as nothing but nameless villains who show up to be hacked down by the Candyman. Mia DaCosta shoots those final kills impeccably, but the meaning behind those kills mean next to nothing because the film lacks narrative and thematic focus. Mia DaCosta’s Candyman (2021) interprets the legend of Candyman as a spirit of vengeance for the wrongfully oppressed, but the execution of that theme doesn’t quite land.
Candyman (2021) has tremendous ambition. Mia DaCosta is an insanely talented director with a distinct visual style and a lot of ideas on her mind. It’s the fact that those ideas don’t always land that keeps Candyman (2021) from truly being great. For fans of Tony Todd, you’ll either love or hate his lack of screen presence. In relation to the themes of Candyman (2021), it’s actually one of the best aspects of the film because it now frames Candyman as an idea who takes on a new form (or face) with each passing generation. That being said, Candyman (2021) clumsily makes its way to the finish line with underdeveloped characters, an uneven chain of events, and half baked themes and ideas.