A discernible universal groan can be heard whenever Hollywood announces a remake, reboot or continuation of a classic horror series. “Hollywood is out of ideas!” the masses cry, and while they aren’t far from the truth, on rare occasions a spark of originality can shine through obvious retreads. On the chopping block today is Candyman (2021), whose indirect marketing confused many on whether or not this was a sequel, a remake or a spiritual successor. While the original Candyman from 1992 isn’t as well-recognized as other horror staples, its undeniably a cult classic with a huge fanbase thanks in part to its haunting, slow-burn atmosphere and its deeper, socio-political meanings. Not to mention the film is haunted by a chilling performance by Tony Todd as the titular specter. With a relevant message already behind this decades old film, one may be wondering what new insight could be brought to the franchise in order to reintroduce it to new audiences.
At its core, Candyman (2021) is very similar to its predecessor in its tackling of racial injustice and how it affects a community. The sequel takes it a step further by tying the mythos in with the issues of gentrification and how history creates its monsters. Evidently, its the film’s juggling of multiple ideas and expansions of the original’s story that makes it a bit too muddled to be clearly understood, especially near the tail end of the film. What keeps the film engaging is its strong lead performances, enticing camerawork and foreboding atmosphere, even if the ultimate payoff is a bit of a disappointment.
The newest iteration in the Candyman saga takes place 27 years after the original, following an ambitious painter named Anthony (Yaya Abdul-Mateen II) becoming enveloped in the urban legend of the Candyman. A vengeful spirit born of racist killings, the Candyman appears when someone recites his name 5 times while looking at a mirror, killing them shortly after. While this makes for great inspiration for his art career, the legend soon becomes all too real for Anthony and everyone he encounters, as grizzly supernatural murders begin to occur in his wake.
When you think of the melding of horror and social commentary in the modern era, many instantly think of Jordan Peele, director of Get Out and Us. While Peele only acts as producer and co-writer here, his touches and motifs are apparent. Yet the film has been haphazardly labeled as a Peele film when really it is directed by Nia DaCosta. The irony of this blatant mislabeling is not lost on me, as the film itself talks about how the powerful construct the narratives we come to accept as facts. While I’m sure Peele provided a great deal of help with the production, the overshadowing of the actual director’s name through the film’s marketing is honestly depressing. No matter what I think of the film, it’s DaCosta‘s name that matters most.
DaCosta’s care for the source material is quite apparent, as the film does a fantastic job at melding this film into the series’ universe without having to alter the source material too much. This way fans of the original can be happy the original story remains intact while this new story can snuggle in cozily alongside it. What the film does with the Candyman mythos is also respectable, adding a new spin on the legend that allows for new ideas while still retaining what made the original so enticing. The deeper socio-political elements are also back, building upon the established groundwork in a mostly natural way. These messages are placed much more prominently in the front of the narrative this time around, and while these new ideas reflect the horrors of the real world, they don’t do nearly as much to elevate the horror of the story. The prominence of gentrification and the commodification of black people is constantly being discussed yet it doesn’t elevate the story beyond uncomfortable glances from white characters. “Say his name” is constantly repeated throughout the film, ushering attention towards Candyman in an apparent reference to the “say his/her/their name” slogan that dominated police brutality discussions. While the connection is attempting to bridge the film and real life through the themes of wrongful black deaths, it only adds to the clunkiness of its message. There was a lot of real life horrors that could be drawn on for this film, but choosing too many connected yet differing ideas is ultimately what hinders the movie in the grand scheme.
Despite its stumbling with its narratives the film still succeeds in building subtle uneasiness through its patient camerawork and presentation. Exposition is told through creepy shadow puppets that at least add some visual flair to a good bit of info dumps. The use of mirrors as conduit to show the Candyman was a great choice, allowing him to hide just out of sight while also maintaining the malevolent spirit’s mystery. Unfortunately these buildups never really equate to genuine scares outside of a few instances of minor body horror. A film can only make you uneasy for so long without satisfying payoff, and by the time the movie enters its finale you never actually feel scared of what you’re seeing. The Bloody Mary myth that shares many similarities with the Candyman myth is a generational lapsing urban legend that many kids to this day still fear to participate in, yet the film never really harnesses what makes the legend so universally feared. To this day I, a jaded, cynical adult, still will not do the “game” even though all of my beliefs go against its validity. Whatever it is that can make something like that stick with you for decades is unfortunately not found here. The last saving grace of this film is its performances and writing (sometimes). Peele’s trademark humor in horror is found here, managing to be poignant and witty and providing some unexpected laughs when needed. Not every character is so lucky (the art dealer has some of the most hard-headed writing in the film), but there’s enough genuine emotion to our main characters’ actions that they remain believable in film where they are terrorized by a man with a hook hand.
It’s a shame that by the time the film draws to a close, we get only a glimpse of what could have been a smart spin on the legend that’s quickly run through in the span of 10 minutes. Forgetting to lose itself in the horrors of it all while still trying to provide social commentary is ultimately what keeps the film from becoming the modern horror classic it certainly could have been. The balance between the two is fairly off, and while the technical aspects of the film are competent enough to provide visual eye candy(man), it just isn’t enough. Poignant and scary in the sense that it practically tells you it is, I was hoping for something more. While not outright terrible like many other horror sequels that walk this path, it manages to be casually palatable with a looming cloud of potential hovering over it, waiting for a lightning strike that just never comes.
Oh, no…I just realized I said Candyman more than five times. Why did I write this in front of a mirror? And why did I read this review out-loud into said mirror as I was writing it? Oh shi-
Now that I’m dead, it turns out its much easier for me to deliver quality cocktails. Just say “Martini Shot” in the mirror 5 times and I’ll appear to make you a drink. Go ahead, try it!
Blood Honey is a slightly bitter, slightly spicy concoction of rum and sweet vermouth, a strong, Manhattan-like combination. To tie the drink into the Candyman’s buzzing buddies, I’ve utilized a spicy honey syrup to add a bit of sweetness along with a slight sting. You can use any type of spicy pepper you want depending on your tolerance, although it won’t overpower the drink regardless. Finally, a splash of grenadine help gives it that deep red color while also establishing an underlying sweetness that doesn’t pull you away from the drinks key flavors.
- 2oz dark rum
- 1oz sweet vermouth
- 1/4oz hot honey syrup
- Splash of grenadine
For the Hot Honey Syrup:
- 1/4 cup of water
- 1/2 cup of honey
- 1 hot pepper of choice, sliced (Fresno, Jalapeño, Habanero, etc.)
- Pinch of salt
- For the hot honey syrup, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir frequently to dissolve honey, cooking for about five minutes. Let cool, then strain into container, removing the peppers and seeds.
- Add drink ingredients to shaker and shake with ice.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or over ice.