By David Dent
Nia DaCosta’s reboot/remake/sequel to the Bernard Rose directed 1992 original (both inspired by Clive Barker’s short story ‘The Forbidden’) takes us back to the Cabrini Green housing estate in Chicago featured in the first movie. The project, as these things are called in the US, has now been regentrified as exclusive condominium living, and in one of them lives struggling artist Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who lives with his well to do girlfriend, gallery owning Brianna (Teyonah Parris).
Anthony has lost his mojo and has nothing new to offer his agent. Facing the possibility of losing his contract, via a guy who works at the local laundromat he learns of the dark history of the site on which Cabrini Green was built, the legend of Candyman and the five chant summoning spell. Inspired by stories of the persecution of black people, Anthony’s new installation, titled ‘Say My Name’, is a mirrored cabinet that, when opened, discloses a hidden room full of his paintings. But as Anthony becomes more and more obsessed with this dark chapter in the City’s history his creation of massive dark obsessive canvasses is accompanied by a physical change in his skin (triggered by a bee sting). Is he actually transforming into Candyman?
DaCosta’s desire here is to use the ‘Candyman’ story as a jumping off point for a deeper study of racial intolerance and vengeance from beyond the grave; her film is more broad brush strokes than fine details, which means that themes are picked up and dropped quickly (the hand of co-writer Jordan Peele is clearly at work here; some of the film’s constantly evolving subtext feels very similar to his own movies).
But where the film scores is in the visuals – a lot of clever stuff involving mirrors (a kind of reverse world where Candyman operates) – and the interweaving of the first movie into the narrative of the remake. The story of Helen Lyle (the main character from the original film) is recounted as a continuation of the Candyman urban legend (cleverly illustrated with shadow puppetry) and there’s a final reel twist connecting Anthony with the events of Rose’s original.
But overall this is a much angrier film than the 1992 version, for we live in more turbulent and less forgiving times; here the spirit of Candyman is seen less as a to be feared bogeyman than an avenger of the evil that (white) men do. And by the time the abrupt ending shuts the door on the grimness, we’ve seen a lot.
Candyman is out now in UK cinemas.