Who can take the sunrise, sprinkle it with blood? The Candyman. The Candyman (2021) can.
Can I be honest with you guys? If I didn’t watch the original first, I probably wouldn’t have been as startled as I am now about the story and even then…..I’d probably never eat another piece of candy again. However, while the heart and soul from the original is intact, the nuance is fading.
In only her second feature film, Nia DaCosta takes the rich yet messy cultural canvas our central character uncovers, thus tying it to the original movie and unveils a sneakily profound way of utilizing the unreliable narrator trope, toying with plausibility and free to dig deeper into the legend and the parallels from then and now. As a very beautiful movie about very ugly things, the production design really carries out that initial architectural black stain as she stages the kill scenes with a mix of pitch-black humor, misdirection, and clever framing.
But Jordan Peele also holds a considerable amount of the accountability for this. If there’s one thing Peele has gotten good at, it’s his predilection for goosing us while combining the hard truths about racial stigma in America and this tale is…..constructed satisfactory enough to support that. Doesn’t matter how sneaky or clever or wealthy or influential you can be: racism is embedded too deep to simply be swept under the rug and forgotten about. As terrible as those stories are, it helps more to spread them far and wide and teach them as lessons as opposed to letting it destroy us all from the inside out. And whether you want to admit that or not, it’s a pretty gargantuan black stain that no or pencil stroke will hardly ever get rid of.
But there is a caveat and I’ll get to what I mean by that later.
The talents of every cast member here are exploited to bring out the best of them; their relationships are meticulously crafted, building strong connections with each other, thus making the performances even more believable. Yahya Abdul Mateen II and Teyonah Paris are the deft standouts while Nathan Stewart Jarrett is a surprisingly competent comic relief.
Just like the original, it makes brilliant use of its R-rating, using horror to delve deeper into humanity’s dark side. Equipping the same creepy, ominous atmosphere from the original, the sinuous cinematography bodes well for the structure the film builds and tries to maintain and the methodical slow-build does its pacing and editing wonders, especially to the audience members who are patient.
Despite a tight 91 minutes, the film is ripe with symbolism also, hauntingly expressive with its use of puppetry but also deeply uncomfortable.
As an eerie prism portraying gentrification, inner-city violence, and the urban racial divide, this follow-up tries to take it one step further by questioning it’s own existence…..just not in a way that’s legitimately very surprising. And this is where the caveat comes in: as a sharp piece of meta-genre filmmaking on one hand but a smart deconstruction of political horror films on the other, I am beyond overjoyed that this continuation escapes a long tradition of exploiting Black pain for cheap scares but the lack of subtlety about its interwoven mythology and historical context brought this score down a peg. I know I’ve mentioned that some subject matters have to be hammered home excessively to ensure it sticks but this was one of those instances where they honestly could’ve benefited without hamfisting it.
I could say the same with some of the editing also because they added in some scenes that I felt….didn’t really need to be in this movie. Also, the less I say about the stock musical score, the better.
But that didn’t exactly annoy me as much as the third act, which is where the pacing unnecessarily ratchets up to 11 and the tight 90 minute runtime effectively curbstomps the films forward momentum, practically turning the embodiment of Candyman’s entire backstory and physique into just another slasher flick…..just like the first movie. The impact wasn’t lost to me because of it however (given it was always meant to be a slasher at the end of the day) but this was a problem that originated from the script as well.
Regardless of how I felt about how it all unfolded, I’m glad I got the chance to learn of the impact from the original Candyman and the legacy it had left behind, both in this continuation and for other people of color like me who are just trying to make it and find somewhere we belong.