“The legend is if you say his name five times while looking in the mirror, he appears in the reflection and kills you … so I thought we could summon him.” – Really bad idea expressed by a particular character in “Candyman.”
From the opening moments of Nia DaCosta’s gory yet strikingly beautiful and socially relevant “Candyman,” it’s clear we’re in for an especially haunting and just plain entertaining thrill ride.
Before we even settle in for the main story, we hear Sammy Davis Jr.’s version of “The Candy Man” from 1972 mixed with the sounds of a swarm of bees, and we see mirror images of the various studio logos, including the MGM lion, involved in this film. After a prologue set in the Cabrini-Green Homes in 1977, the opening credits flash over a montage of the Chicago skyline – as seen from below, through a dense white fog, in the middle of the night. It’s almost as if we were on a gurney, looking straight up. This, too, is a kind of mirror image of the opening titles in the 1992 “Candyman,” where the camera swooped directly ABOVE the streets of Chicago.
Buckle up, kids. And be careful what you say into that mirror.
“Candyman” is billed as a spiritual and direct sequel to the 1992 original (ignoring the events of the two forgotten “Candyman” follow-ups from the 1990s), and director/co-writer DaCosta, along with co-writer and producer Jordan Peele, have delivered a worthy successor with far superior production values and an equally powerful story combining traditional gotcha! horror moments and some suitably gory splatter moments with running themes about institutional racism, social class warfare and how unreliable narrators will shape and shift urban fairy tales to suit their worldviews.
Oh, and it’s also wickedly funny at times, as when a young woman says she just might say “Candyman” five times into a mirror, and the creepy guy trying to hook up with her retorts, “Do it. Necrophilia has always been on my bucket list.”
This “Candyman” is set primarily in the present day and specifically in the gentrified Near North Side neighborhood that a generation earlier was the site of the notorious Cabrini-Green complex. (One character explains the transformation in the voice of planners saying, “Hey, you artists, you young people, you white(s) preferably, please come to the ‘hood; it’s cheap. And if you stick it out for a couple of years, we’ll bring you a Whole Foods.”) In a powerful and resonant performance, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II plays Anthony, a celebrated young artist (who is almost always labeled “a Black artist”) who lives with his girlfriend, Brianna (Teyonah Parris, doing fine work), an art gallery director, in a posh apartment.
Anthony has been struggling for the past couple of years and is looking to explore new themes, and he’s intrigued when Brianna’s younger brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) tells the urban legend of Candyman through a shadow box presentation. It’s not accurate to the “real” events as we know them from the original film, as the Helen Lyle character is now painted as the real villain, who went on a killing spree and tried to sacrifice a baby in a bonfire, when we know she gave up her own life to save the child. But it’s still one chilling story.
Director DaCosta does a brilliant job of alternating the visuals of the kills; sometimes we see the murders in silhouette, while on other occasions it’s more about crackling sound effects and dripping blood than hardcore close-ups.
This is a visually striking film, containing establishing shots of Chicago at its most beautiful, and interior scenes brimming with eye-catching artwork on the walls, and color-coordinated rooms and hallways in shades of blues and oranges and greens and stark whites.
If you want to say “Candyman” five times, go ahead. I think I’ll stop at four just to play it safe.