This year’s Candyman is not 1992’s Candyman. It never could be. Much like David Gordon Green’s Halloween and the raft of same-title reimaginings we’re plagued with, director Nia DICosta was tasked with reinterpreting the cult-classic slasher for a new generation without straying too far from the beaten path. It’s a path well beaten, given how the original was followed by two fairly lousy sequels and a generation of horror films that owe something to original filmmaker Bernard Rose’s truly terrifying film, not to mention the last half-decade of post-Get Out horror filled with movies that proudly advertise their value as social commentary for audiences who present their tastes in fiction as political value statements. No, DaCosta’s Candyman isn’t the original film. Instead it’s a bold, if not always successful, reimagining of that original film into the modern social syntax of our times, even if it isn’t clear what it wants to say.
Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is an artist in Chicago frustrated by his inability to get showings. Black art is passe among the white gentrified artists who frequent his events. He’s rudderless, until he comes across the old Candyman story. He investigates the folklore and pulls meaning from it. His art takes off, but soon people in his orbit start to die in graphic, terrible ways. Is the Candyman back or is something more sinister afoot?
Its conclusion changes the Candyman mythos is a way that feels pulled directly from the theme-flattening nature of social media discourse. It’s a thinkpiece version of this character, where the titular specter becomes an avenging angel rather than a dark vengeful spirit. There’s not much nuance amid the righteous anger. It feels very much like a Candyman film made by someone who primarily engaged with the original through the critical consensus shaped by almost 30 years of its academic dissection.
The original Candyman certainly has something to say — as most of these genre films ultimately do — but the reason it persists is because it’s so goddamn scary and ruthlessly effective at haunting its audience. It persists not because of its social commentary but because it’s a film that inspires people to talk. This Candyman isn’t haunting in the least, although its small share of scares do succeed on their own merits. Amid the strangeness of the script, DaCosta does fashion a visually compelling and fun slasher. The kills are artfully choreographed and brutal in just the right way. There’s an element of body horror here, too, that slow-burns just right. Nothing on the level of the original, but it’s best follow-up we’ve had.
It’s an imperfect film with too much rumbling around its head, but the murders and physical degradation are satisfying enough on their own right. It’ll end up a footnote in the legend of the original film, and probably DaCosta’s skyrocketing career, but one that future audiences will enjoy as they make their way through her filmography.
Special features on this release include deleted and extended scenes, a few special-features documentaries and an alternate ending.