Candyman eradicates the terror of the horror of gentrification
Cabrini-Green Homes, a social housing unit complex on Chicago’s Near North Side, has often played a disproportionate role in the fear of social housing in the United States and all it stands for. For some in the mainstream commentary, it is the failure of well-intentioned but poorly executed liberal attempts to provide affordable housing to the poor; for others, it is the savagery of a black underclass that they associate with uncontrolled crime, drugs and gang activity.
By the end of the 1980s, Cabrini-Green was already synonymous in the minds of many Americans of the “urban jungle”. Into this scene entered British filmmaker Bernard Rose, who was working on an adaptation of horror writer Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden”, in which a graduate student researching the traditions of a consulting field Briton comes across a series of murders bearing the mark of an urban legend. Rose decided, after reading about the murder of Ruthie Mae McCoy and the botched management of the police, to move the story from Liverpool to Chicago – and to the Cabrini-Green Homes, where a number of its most notorious scenes have been. filmed.
The film had a quintessentially British tone; though creepy and well-designed, it scanned like the work of someone for whom Cabrini-Green was something exotic, if not alien. But it also proved to be very popular, spawning several sequels. Now, in the midst of something from a golden age of black horror movies, comes a new Candy, directed by Nia DaCosta, who wrote the screenplay with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld, Peele’s partner in Monkeypaw Productions. New Candy is a direct sequel to the first, which takes place thirty years later in a Chicago where the Cabrini-Green Homes no longer exist, but the shadow they cast remains over the entire city.
Much more successful in painting a contemporary Chicago picture than Rose’s film, the new Candy is one of the most accurate depictions of the city in any horror movie. All that remains of Cabrini-Green are a handful of two-story townhouses, most of them closed and slated for destruction, a fate only preceded by the premature arrival of COVID-19. But DaCosta (a New Yorker who has done her research) still manages to convey the threat of the place while effectively communicating what her disappearance has done to the community that once called her home – and the wave of gentrification that followed, as more affluent white residents rushed to buy the expensive condominiums the developers built after receiving what was once public property.
Candyman’s politics are dispersed. Its primary mission, of course, is to scare and thrill, not to lecture us on the history of social housing in the United States. But he treats some political issues skillfully and others awkwardly.
The question of gentrification is the subject of much talk; an early scene, where the main characters (an intense and fluid Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as urban artist Anthony McCoy, and the exceptional Teyonah Parris as partner, art dealer Brianna Cartwright, doing commendable work with a more thankless role) discuss their own feelings about living in an expensive skyscraper that was once a public apartment building where McCoy grew up, sets the stage a bit awkwardly. But it pays off later when McCoy berates a white art critic (Rebecca Spence) for blaming artists like him for gentrification rather than governments that abandon the urban poor and developers who take advantage of their misery to make it happen. of profit.
The word “capitalism” is never uttered, of course, and the film does not pay much attention to exploring the tensions of the black bourgeoisie and the working class. It is all the more curious since it is about an African-American director, whereas the original Candy, by a white Englishman, went to great lengths to portray the people of Cabrini-Green as victims of circumstances beyond their control on many levels rather than taking the common shortcuts of painting them as gangbangers, drug addicts and other difficult cases. Still, this is a Jordan Peele film, not Boots Riley, so moderating political expectations before seeing it is a good idea.
The policies that occupy most of the film’s attention are racial. All the films of the Candy the series (and the various incarnations of the main character, a murderous fantasy that appears whenever her name is spoken five times in a mirror – itself a variation of the pre-urban legend of “Bloody” Mary Whales) are like a tour through the horrors inflicted on black Americans: the original incarnation of the Candyman was the son of a pre-war slave punished to death for having an affair with a white woman, and the modern version was a murdered innocent man by the police for a crime he had not committed commit. McCoy himself was raised in poverty and navigates class and racial struggles for success in the largely white world of fine art.
The police, too, are a pervasive threat rather than a means of salvation for most of the characters; those who kill Sherman Fields, who would become the Candyman in the 1970s, are called “the swarm,” a grim reversal of the bee halo that surrounds his head when he returns to threaten the projects. In the age of Black Lives Matter, they’re not portrayed as a force for hope or salvation or even resolve. The movie climax refuses to let them get away with it, but it’s still a stumbling and obvious portrayal of police racism when there is so much real material to condemn them.
While the Peele and Rosenfeld script isn’t bad, the film works best when it quietly lets its horrors speak for themselves. The most damning indictment of the police is a subtle little moment where McCoy, hearing a passing police siren, instinctively hugs a wall.
Visually, Candy is extremely well done. The opening and closing credits, as well as some flashbacks in the story, are done with simple but effective paper-cut animation by Chicago’s own manual cinema, and DaCosta (with help from cinematographer John Guleserian) uses a disturbing device where Chicago’s well-known skyscrapers are filmed from below and the images flipped, giving the whole city a frightening balance. The effects are generally excellent too, drawing on some CGIs but using traditional makeup and visuals to convey McCoy’s downward descent, exemplified by an infected bee sting that spreads all over his body, making sure that his body reflects the chaos and turmoil of his mind and spirit. .
Overall, however, Candy is a horror film, and its success has to be judged by whether or not it actually horrifies us, which it does until its confusing conclusion. Some of the most effective horrors relate to the unexpected – of seeing something we don’t expect to see somewhere we don’t expect to see – and the Candyman gadget appearing in the most private and predictable place. of all, a mirror, drives this house mightily with half-glimpsed movements and dark shapes, avoiding predictable jump cuts.
One scene, the violent aftermath of McCoy’s visit to the art critic’s apartment at Marina Towers, is evidence of the film’s skill at portraying the unnerving and menacing quality of liminal spaces; everything from a modernly designed hallway to the passage to a utility room in Cabrini-Green is saturated with dread.
But another element of horror is disturbance. It is the explosion in our reality of what we want away from it. Here the metaphor stumbles, because in the original film, taking place among the inhabitants of a city who were already suffering from neglect and deprivation, the victims had our sympathy. In the new Candy, these people have become invisible: the buildings still exist, but the inhabitants have been pushed away, out of our sight, and replaced by a predominantly white middle class. One of the reasons Cabrini-Green was particularly feared by the white population was because it was located in north Chicago, where they or they lived, not far away, on the South Side, among other blacks. He brought the realities of social housing and the racism that permeated their reaction so close that it couldn’t be ignored.
In the last days of Cabrini-Green Homes, when most of the residents had been essentially deported to other places and projects, there was little hope for the few who remained. One said, in the new York Times, that “there are people hiding everywhere, in the corridors, in the corners”. These people are gone now. All that’s left are the wealthy white residents who took over the sites from their old homes after greedy developers tore them down, and a few poor blacks and workers lucky enough to have the resources to join them. The new Candyman is meant to be a threat to them, not to the black residents who had already suffered so much. But it is not a victory for these residents either. They are all gone, and even their misery and fear belongs to someone else now.