If you combine Captain Hook with a swarm of bees you have an idea of the antagonists in the horror-thriller Candyman. This 2021 version is based on the 1992 film of the same name written by Bernard Rose, and the short story The Forbidden by Clive Barker. Jordan Peele (Get Out), Win Rosenfeld and Nia DaCosta provide the script, while DaCosta also directs. The film concerns the shabby treatment of African Americans. This has resulted in the legend of the Candyman (Tony Todd), who has a hook for one of his hands.
The movie starts in 1977. A youngster doing his laundry in the housing projects of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green is frightened by the sudden appearance of a man from a wall cavity. Although the Candyman (so called because he dispenses sweets) is innocent of any wrongdoing, the child’s cries attract the police. They beat the Candyman to death. Next, we hear the corollary to that episode in 2019. Troy Cartwright (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), the brother of art gallery director Brianna (Teyonah Parris), recites a scary story about a baby being snatched. It triggers a response from Brianna’s boyfriend, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an artist who until that point appeared to have a case of writer’s block and was accused of living off her.
His investigation into the Candyman leads him back to the projects and sees him meet the lad (now an ageing man) who was confronted by the Candyman five decades earlier, William Burke (Colman Domingo). Sustaining a bee sting, which grows and spreads, McCoy immerses himself in a mission to relate the story of the projects through his Candyman imagery. In the process, he becomes increasingly erratic.
Underpinning all of this is the claim that if someone says “Candyman” in front of a mirror five times they will be killed on the spot. Blood is bound to flow freely before the final credits roll.
First up, Candyman is a good-looking film. Visually, it’s stylish in more ways than one. The filmmakers have skilfully employed silhouette puppetry to showcase the legend of the Candyman, which we learn dates back to the 19th century. The performances, led by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, are solid, even if I felt the storyline pushed the boundaries of credibility the longer it went. While the narrative is relatively complex, regardless of the fine detail, you can readily follow the gist.
I also appreciated Teyonah Parris’ role as the responsible girlfriend who watches her partner unravel. The soundtrack, too, aids the cause of misgivings throughout Candyman.
So, while not entirely satisfying, this new Candyman is far more polished than many of this genre typically are.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.