Be his victim. Once again, the setting is (albeit modified) Cabrini-Green, the notorious Chicago neighborhood where the Candyman—a malevolent spirit surrounded by a swarm of bees and a bloody hook for a right hand—once terrorized residents and/or anyone who dare doubt his existence many decades ago, like Helen Lyle once did. Now, the scene is present day, and the old Cabrini-Green is gentrified.
Visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his girlfriend, art gallery director Brianna (Teyonah Parris) reside in the city. Anthony is in somewhat of a creative rut, like a director who knocks it out of the park on their debut and since has struggled to have as impactful follow-ups. He is searching for inspiration, and upon hearing about the urban legend of the Candyman, he goes out into the new-old Cabrini and seeks out the truth from the myth, befriending a longtime resident in William (Colman Domingo), something of a historian. Quickly, Anthony finds his inspiration. Problem is, his inspiration turns into manic hysteria followed by mysterious acts of brutal violence. Urban legends never die, they just get retold.
Candyman 2021 is frustrating to talk about. In a nutshell, it is a fairly hooking and compelling flick. However, it would be hard for one to not acknowledge that, yes, it could be better, and it should be better. What starts off well from a script perspective loses the plot in a final act that doesn’t seem divisive, but widely recognized as a whiff. For some, the last act will mar the entire rest of things it does well, and for others, they’ll separate the initial and middle good from the bad end.
Where does Candyman work most strongly? Technical presentation, and it isn’t that hyperbolic to say that the film is—sort of surprisingly—one of 2021’s best looking features courtesy of sophomore director Nia DaCosta with heavy contributions from cinematographer/director of photography John Guleserian, and editor Catrin Hedström. Obviously, mirrors and reflections have long been baked into the essence of the mythos, and that continues here. But beyond the obvious, her shot composition from using depth, angles, and space to augment the story shows a mastery from a purely visual view. Flashbacks are utilized here and there, though the preferred method of relaying urban legends are unique shadowbox puppet-style motion illustrations drenched in gray, black, and white. The score from Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe takes influence from its predecessor in sound (the first by Phillip Glass had significant elements of religious hymns) while modernizing it for today. My eyes and ears were rarely bored watching and listening to this sequel. One criticism? It isn’t “scary,” and I think it’s more due to the fact that in the 21st century, it is very debatable as to how effective a slasher can be in this day and age; what used to scare once no longer does like it used to.
Candyman features a mix of rising stars and seasoned ones. Domingo and Vanessa Williams are part of the latter, serving as tether tissue from the 1992 movie to this one. Both do not have a ton of screentime, yet both make their presence felt. The top two billed are Abdul-Mateen II and Parris, who are talented (strikingly beautiful too, the camera loves both) and believable in their roles, these two will continue their ascents in Hollywood. Brief meta levity is provided by Kyle Kaminsky and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett.
All of the aforementioned are good, but unfortunately, they aren’t “great” and it is because of the script, stung with a few interesting ideas and character backstories but infected by a lack of details, rushed pacing, and questionable logistics. Written by the threesome of DaCosta, Jordan Peele, and Win Rosenfeld, it starts off well in running deeper with the idea the first Candyman implied, that the system is at fault for the genesis of the menace, and this firmly locks the sequel into our current world. This is nice! That said, the trio’s script takes a wonky hard left turn in the last act pushing the theme of corrective vengeance, coming out of nowhere with no allusion to this being a possibility. Multiple and seemingly important pieces of characters’ lives are shown, only to not be as important as we’re led to believe–many are forgotten. And even on a base level, the common sense is missing in ways one cannot unsee (i.e. see a doctor if your bee-stung hand looks like rotting sandpaper, and maybe have the authorities look at Anthony and Brianna who put out suspect vibes consistently once the body count rises).
What the new Candyman does, it does at an above-average level in cast performances and direction. But it carries the feeling of needing additional runtime to account for the script and pacing missteps. Perhaps a director’s cut is in the works down the line. Yours truly would be all for it, and I imagine it would definitely make me believe more in this Candyman.
Photo credits go to usatoday.com, polygon.com, and bleedingcool.com.
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