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Candyman (2021) review

Candyman is directed and co-written by Nia DaCosta (alongside executive producer and co-writer Jordan Peele) and is a re-imagining of the 1992 classic of the same name; it stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris as a couple who delve deeper into the Candyman legend. Anthony (Yahya’s character) is an artist stuck in a rut, who looks at a particular Cabrini-Green legend for inspiration, reawakening the legend. Of note is that, while the movie doesn’t require any knowledge of the previous movies in the franchise, it is not a reboot exactly; the 1992 movie has happened and the movie sort of picks up after that with fans of the original sure to recognize some elements, but newcomers will not need any foreknowledge to understand or follow along.

As with any movie, there are two ways to discuss Candyman: Either you focus on “reviewing” it and answering whether it was scary or well-paced, or you “critique” it by providing your perspective on the movie and why it works or not. The first way is actually rather simple for this movie; it works. It is a beautiful movie with great lighting, practical effects, performances, and does have some good moments of dread and inventive horror sequences throughout, however it’s not the scariest movie ever made and can be a drag for people not willing to interact with the narrative and its complex themes; simply put, it is a fun horror movie to watch, but casual viewers will be better served elsewhere. Critiquing it, however, is a completely different matter; like the original, Candyman has a lot going on and does not stick the landing on everything. There are themes of gentrification, racism, classism, identity, and the harmful nature of preconceived notions for another person, but these stops being in the background as fun side-puzzles to solve or themes to interact with and contextualize characters and story with, but start being the actual story with a pretty wild ending and tendencies to be too on the nose for most of these themes. This leads to a situation where the first part of the movie is setting up characters, themes, and the storyline while the latter part is a much more satisfying dreading crawl towards confronting these themes and slowly uncovering a mystery (more on that later). There’s nothing wrong with having a lot of set up if the payoff can support it, however this may have been too much set up for my liking.

Despite that, I really enjoyed a lot of moments from the movie that hit home a bit harder for me; Anthony is a struggling artist trying to break through and be recognized, while his girlfriend Brianna (Parris) is the head of an art exhibition trying encourage Anthony and support him. This acts as set up for Anthony finally being recognized and mentioned around after his piece on the Candyman starts being linked to the murders by the legend, which turns skeptic critics and the unaware public into fascinated observers and DaCosta allows Anthony to revel in that recognition a little bit, which makes the character more approachable and the continuation of the story have more of a sting (pun intended). Furthermore, while I connected more to the ‘mental illness and the whole industry behind it’ fixation of the original, I enjoyed the art world critique of this reimagining a heck of a lot more, especially the exploration of Brianna’s place in it, in regards to the men in her life and not her own work. The problem, however, is that there is a better paced (but less unique) horror movie here and that is what I would prefer to see for this particular movie; limiting the themes and cutting out the runtime to deliver a more direct horror experience. This is best exemplified by the ending where the “punch” is a narrative one – the themes and characters cultivate in a memorable experience that is as clear and condemning as a conclusion can get with a great reveal waiting – but, as a horror experience, left me feeling wanting more.

Overall, that last sentence is what best describes my feeling for the movie, but not necessarily as a negative; I wanted more horror, more of the inventive scares and that slow rationing of dread and creepiness to be even more relentless. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t have any of that or that the gorgeous visuals and impeccable vision of DaCosta was lacking in any way the gore and the scares I expected; it’s just that I left the theater wanting to have the horror elements be the ones I discussed and couldn’t get out of my head, like any great horror movie can do to you. Instead, it was a discussion of themes I couldn’t get out of my head that felt like I had seen a great drama with horror elements and not the other way around; I am such a huge fan of this motto, but I always want it to be the other way around (horror with drama elements) and I wished for that experience. I will rewatch this movie at the first chance and I (suspect) will have an even more positive reaction to it, but for now I did hope for something more, despite the great writing and direction this modern installment brought to the franchise; I do hope that there are further installments in the franchise (in the correct way which I won’t spoil for people) or for DaCosta to get more opportunities as a director/writer and to make more horror movies because I do like what I’ve seen and wanting more of something good is hardly the worst opinion your movie can have. I also could not have candy for almost two months, so maybe that traumatized me a bit as well, so next time I’ll be sure to bring some sweets with me and be careful of those sharp razers some are hiding in them…

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