Reel Reviews | Candyman

by Kate Erbland | Indiewire

By now, even expressing the need to reiterate that yes, many horror films are political, always have been, always will be, ahem is rote.

If you don’t get the symbolism in everything from “Night of the Living Dead” to “Get Out,” “Black Christmas” to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” it may be too late for anyone to even try, but leave it to Nia DaCosta’s alternately artful and brutal “Candyman” sequel to make plain the power of political symbolism in good, old-fashioned gore. Much like Bernard Rose’s 1992 original, which DaCosta’s film uses as its touchstone and starting point (the film’s other two sequels, not so much), this “Candyman” uses the history of trauma against Black Americans as its real villain, with genuinely horrifying results.

A working knowledge of Rose’s film, itself adapted from a Clive Barker short story that Rose cleverly moved from the UK to Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing projects, isn’t necessary to enjoy DaCosta’s film, but audiences who grew up (rightfully) afraid of men with hooks for hands and knowing never to say “Candyman” five times in front of a mirror will surely have a deeper appreciation of this new version. Stories, after all, stick with us, especially the scary ones, and that’s something DaCosta and co-writers Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld keenly understand.

It’s the legend of Candyman (or, at least, the legend of Candyman) that opens the film, flashing back to Cabrini-Green back in 1977 (more than a decade before the events of Rose’s film), as a young resident heads off to the projects’ shared laundry room to run a load. Tucked inside a wall: a hook-handed fellow resident, best known for offering up candy to the neighbor kids. He’s Candyman, but he’s not; he’s familiar, but he’s a new creation; the cops are coming for him, but he hasn’t done anything wrong. Thus begins DaCosta’s unnerving exploration of the cyclical nature of trauma and the storytelling that often attempts to explain it away.

By 2019, when the film is set, most of Cabrini-Green has been torn down to make way for glossy, glassy high-rises, which DaCosta brings us to by way of topsy-turvy opening credits that literally turn the city upside down (or is it a mirror image?). Meanwhile, the story of Candyman has been mostly forgotten, including the horrific events that framed Rose’s film. But the past — and its stories — have a tendency to come back around again, for better and for worse.

Chicago natives Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, turning in another stellar performance) and Brianna (a heartbreaking Teyonah Parris) have recently upgraded to one of those swanky new apartments, but unease is simmering beneath the surface: Brianna is a successful art dealer, while Anthony is a painter who hasn’t made anything new in nearly two years. Both of them are plagued by their own stories (and, in Anthony’s case, secrets he doesn’t yet know), which seem destined to color the way everyone sees them, including themselves (hey, it’s a film heavy on mirrors and reflective surfaces, that inevitably leads to facing yourself down). But Brianna’s flashy younger brother Troy (an amusing Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) knows all about the history of Cabrini-Green, and when he offers up some of its tragic backstory, Anthony can feel himself pulled toward it.

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