Candyman Movie Review: Say His Name
In the wake of Jordan Peele’s first horror movie, Get Out, a flood of imitators followed. Some, if not most, were pale copies, reproductions that seemed to share only the vaguest understanding of what made Peele’s movie work. Where stories like The Other Black Girl, which I read in my June 2021 Free Time, triumphed was in their exploration of similar themes, not just similar plots. (On the opposite end is Prime Video’s nightmare of suburbia Them, for example, which traded in Get Out‘s wit for relentless cruelty.) It’s clear that Peele and company (including director and cowriter Nia DaCosta) set out to pull off something similar with their new take on the Candyman. In our Candyman movie review, we’ll find out whether or not they were successful.
Film Both a Reboot and a Sequel
image via Universal Pictures
I’ve seen descriptions of the movie that refer to it as a “spiritual sequel” to the original 1992 film of the same name. I’m a board-certified Hot Dummy™ and therefore, have no idea what that means. To me, the movie played just like a regular sequel. At the same time, they change some elements and sharpen others, giving the film the feel of a reboot. Is that what a spiritual sequel is? If so, then I guess you could call the original movie a spiritual reboot of its source material, Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden.” The 1992 film borrows the bones of the Barker story–man hand hook–but even way back in old-timey 1992, writer-director Bernard Rose was interested in telling a socially relevant story. To that end, the story that informs the movie is a real one.
On April 22, 1987, a woman named Ruthie Mae McCoy called 911 in Chicago. Ruthie had had a history of mental problems, but it’s unlikely the dispatcher to whom she spoke knew that. Still, what McCoy was reporting didn’t make sense. Someone was trying to break into her apartment, she said. She also said that “they want to come through the bathroom,” which confused the dispatcher.
When the police came, there was no answer at the door and they didn’t pursue it further at the time. Two days later, McCoy’s body was discovered. Later, the police would figure out that her murderer came through the hole behind her medicine cabinet. Apparently, it was well-known in McCoy’s community that you could move between apartments through hidden spaces behind the bathroom mirrors. (You may have heard this story earlier this year, when a NYC-based TikToker filmed her discovery of an empty apartment accessible through her own bathroom mirror.) McCoy’s legacy lives on in the tie between the Candyman and mirrors, as well as character names in the original film.
The New Version Attempts to Ground the Story in Social Justice
image via Universal Pictures
But where the original film, set in the now demolished Cabrini-Green public housing development, was more subtle in its connections, this new version wants to make its subtext text. It starts from the very beginning, which opens with a flashback to the Cabrini-Green development of the 1970s. The community is still two decades away from the story of the 1992 movie, but it already appears to be (and to have been) in distress. And the police who ring the buildings don’t feel like a comfort. They’re not there, after all, to watch out for the residents. Instead, they’re hunting a suspect. He will later die as a result.
As the movie returns us to modern times, we meet Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the focus of the film. He and his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) are moving into an apartment that’s been erected over the ground where Cabrini-Green once stood. Like Get Out‘s Chris, Anthony is a photographer. However, the shine is quickly wearing off his once promising career. Casting about for inspiration, Brianna’s brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) gives him the story of the Candyman. The legend draws in Anthony, just like it did with Helen in the original film. And hey, it ended great for her, right?
Candyman Movie Review
On a basic level, this new Candyman movie functions like an updated take on the original story, despite what I said earlier. Someone hears about the tale, then they get way too invested in it, much to their bloody detriment. But where it differs is in its aspirations to tell a bigger story. The Candyman isn’t just Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd); it’s also Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove). It’s a long list of Black men who died in lynchings both informal and state-sanctioned. The movie marketing then is being clever with its exhortations to “say his name.” They obviously want us to draw a line between these victims and their real-life counterparts.
And its setting is intentional as well. This movie wants us to understand and acknowledge that Cabrini-Green, et al. are emblematic of a long legacy of neglect. For instance, where did all those people go when they tore down Cabrini-Green? I have no idea, but I’m sure the final insult of its demolishing came as no surprise to its residents. Anyway, for the most part, the film succeeds in its aspirations. It’s never particularly scary, except in its first scene. But it does tell a solid story, capably fusing together the original film with this one. If it’s a little blunt in its approach, featuring dialogue like “They love what we make but not us,” then that’s excusable in my books. Some people, I say as I stare at the Question-Haver, benefit from that sort of thing.
image via Universal Pictures
But while this is a competent film, it’s not a perfect one. Yes, it’s set in Chicago, but we only know that because they tell us. There’s nothing particularly of the city about this movie. That’s a shame when it could have gone further into the unique horror of Chicago. That it didn’t plays as a lack of diligence, much as we see in Brianna’s storyline. For instance, the movie tells us something about her early life, but then drops the thread, as if they forgot they included it.
On that note, while Abdul-Mateen is as good as he always is, in the end, the story doesn’t afford his character a whole heck of a lot to do. What does he think or feel before he descends into the terror of the story? What about after? To my eyes, his characterization shares the same issue as the depiction of the Candyman. Rarely is the Candyman actually seen in this movie. And no incarnation has the presence that Tony Todd had with his performance in the 1992 movie, which is a fatal weakness for a movie named after the character. So ultimately, this is a good movie, but it’s so close to great.
Have you seen Candyman yet? Tell us what you think in these comments or on our social media?
featured image via Universal Pictures
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf. Email her at email@example.com.