Due to the at times fantastical nature of horror films, the horror genre best mirrors issues facing society, providing a social commentary that can be hidden deeper in the film’s storyline. For example, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) was an allegory for the fear of communism, or the “Red Scare”, that was infiltrating the U.S. at the time. And don’t even get me started on all of the commentaries you can take away from a movie like THE SHINING (1980).
And that is exactly what writer/director Nia DaCosta perfects in CANDYMAN. The film—co-written by Jordan Peele (GET OUT) and Win Rosenfeld—is visually stunning, but more than that it has an important social message about the all-too-common issues of racial injustice that the black community faces daily. From the effects of gentrification to police brutality to generational trauma, the film does not hesitate to weave in thematic references to societal horrors, along with the surface-level horror of a man with a hook terrorizing anyone who looks in a mirror and says his name five times.
A direct sequel to CANDYMAN (1992), this update to the story follows Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a struggling artist that is looking for inspiration in all of the wrong places. When he finally gets pressured to upgrade his art installation for an upcoming exhibition, Anthony begins looking for new ideas. One night, while hanging out with his supportive girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) and her brother, he hears the neighborhood legend of Helen Lyle/the Candyman (aka the events of the 1992 movie) and is moved to investigate the story further. Armed with his camera, Anthony begins exploring his neighborhood, which is in the middle of gentrification, and speaks with former residents to get the truth about the Candyman.
Much to his delight, Anthony’s newfound awareness of the community around him suddenly inspires some of the best art of his life. But, of course, inspiration quickly turns into obsession, and before we know it Anthony begins having visions of himself as the Candyman and people around him start dying in disturbing ways. He couldn’t have been so stupid to look in a mirror and say Candyman five times, right? Right?!?!?
Regardless of whether you like horror films or not, CANDYMAN is a perfect showcase of DaCosta’s artistic vision. Even if you were to watch the movie on mute (which I would not suggest, of course), you will be struck by the visual choices she makes from scene to scene. Splashes of color, creepy reflections in mirrors, foreboding landscapes—all of these images build off of each other as we get drawn deeper and deeper into the lore of the neighborhood and the Candyman himself. Each image has a distinct impact on the tenor of the film, adding to its slow-burn eeriness, and really affected my experience as an audience member. She shows that the real horror in this film isn’t necessarily a man with a hook but on the continued injustices plaguing a community, experiences its residents are unable to escape from.
Admittedly, at times the film veers too much into over-explaining plot points, but DaCosta’s ambitious filmmaking makes up for it, packing a big punch in CANDYMAN’s 90 minute runtime. She is able to create an uneasy atmosphere that permeates through each scene, leveraging exceptional performances from Yahya and Parris to convey a man slowly losing his grip on reality. Without giving too much away, I loved that the film constantly keeps you guessing—particularly the final scene, which completely turns the audience’s allegiance on its head by kinda sorta making you root for the villain.
Beginning with that super creepy opening scene, DaCosta’s CANDYMAN takes hold and never lets go. I know I will not look at a mirror the same for the next several months, much less get the nerve to say C*NDYM*N while looking into it anytime soon and I suggest you take similar precautions.
My Review: B