Nia DaCosta’s horrific ‘Candyman’ keeps the legend alive
As sequels, reboots, and adaptations overwhelm the modern cinematic landscape across the board, the current status quo has truly been standard procedure in horror for nearly a century. A cycle of Frankenstein films featuring the monster made waves in the 1930s only for a new series to shine the spotlight on its creator to turn heads in the 1950s. In the 1980s, two big names in horror of that time, John Carpenter and David Cronenberg, made two of their most iconic films relaunching titles from the 1950s, The thing and Fly. Remakes and sequels have always been king when it comes to cinematic horror and the current trend to revamp classic titles, The invisible Man To Black christmas, couldn’t be more in the vein of “the more things change, the more they say the same” if he tried.
by Nia DaCosta Candy, the latest entry in the latest glut of horror covers, is a smooth sequel / reboot of Bernard Rose’s 1992 film of the same name, itself adapted from Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden”. Like the original Candy, the story revolves around the Near North Side area of Chicago that was once home to the ill-fated Cabrini-Green social housing projects. But where the 1992 film was about an underfunded enclave left to rot by local authorities and institutions, the new film focuses on gentrification, reflecting the reality that the Cabrini-Green Homes have all been demolished since the 1990s, and the area where they once found themselves subjected to significant gentrification.
The legend of Candyman is still what it was in the first movie: say his name five times in the mirror and the hooked-handed Shadowman will seem to drain you like a fish. Its origin story remains the story of Daniel Robitaille, a talented artist and son of a wealthy black family at the end of the 19th century in Chicago who comes into a relationship with a white woman and pays for it with his life after his father. wrath sends a lynching after him. Only now the events of the original Candy the film – the story of graduate student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen, reprising her role in a vocal cameo) who seeks to write a Candyman thesis and becomes possessed by him instead – is also part of the legend she- same.
Just like Helen, the protagonist of DaCosta’s Candy finds himself drawn to legend in search of inspiration. But as she sought to write a dissertation, visual artist Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, about five minutes away from the official lockdown on leading man status because he really is the full package) scrambles to avoid a sophomore collapse after landing a successful solo show straight out of school. When he discovers the legend of Candyman at a dinner party, he finds his interest piqued and, just like Helen twenty years before, Anthony grabs a camera and sets off to investigate.
New Candy is a deeply entertaining, and often scary, horror film with incredibly fluid visual storytelling and a somewhat more random storyline, which DaCosta co-wrote with Jordan Peele and the president of his Monkeypaw Productions banner, Win Rosenfeld. While the social commentary of Candy is not handled with the same kind of skillful hand that made Get out Such a home run, the peculiar ‘punctuate scares with a punchline’ horror approach that Peele does so well remains very present here, and is still an incredibly effective way to entertain and horrify at the same time.
The social commentary present in the scenario dialogue is, however, less effective. His comment on being black in America painted in arguably broad strokes with a heavy hand, ditto gentrification. When it comes to these issues, the movie repeats some key phrases (‘say your name’, a nudge to the Black Lives Matter movement which doesn’t quite match subtext), but often doesn’t necessarily the most nuanced ideas to share. The main takeaways are not glaring – the wounds of collective trauma are not scars that simply heal over time and cycles of violence and pain perpetuate themselves – but hardly revolutionary either. .
It’s the kind of script that often says the most interesting things when it stops talking because Candy has some very interesting things to say, it’s just a lot better to show than to say (cinematographer John Guleserian does an amazing job here). The opening, for example, showcases a masterclass in generating malaise, with a camera that slowly but surely spins viewers in circles, upside down and then upside down, weaving its narrative path through two. “False starts” of a sort with characters ultimately turning out to be supporting players before finally introducing Anthony.
Candy is at its best as a tale of stories – how they themselves are evolving living things, how they are shaped by interpretation, how they can be manipulated. There are times when the film’s own narrative of Candyman seems to contradict itself, but that too sounds like something that just might be intentional.
It is deeply ironic that this Candy focuses on a visual artist and not a graduate student in semiotics like the original, because between the two there is much more to be learned when it comes to semiotics. The DaCosta film sees the titular legend not so much as a singular story as a type of Aarne-Thompson-Uther index tale; an evolving collection of variants descending from a common ancestor better understood as a collective. Its most daring innovation is a shift in emphasis from individual identities to collective identities. Here is where the film’s most intriguing food for thought resides, in the way it interacts with both the original. Candy and horror narrative tropes more generally.
It’s worth noting here that DaCosta’s approach to telling this story is drastically different from Rose’s, including in a way that might disappoint some fans of the previous film. The particular textured specificity very present in the original, which strongly values the Chicago of it all in terms of building a very specific and organic narrative to the city in which it takes place, is decidedly absent here. The new movie is set in Chicago because the specific ways this movie ties in with its predecessor dictates continuity, but the movie itself feels so unspecific in its setting that I, someone who grew up in Chicago, forgot. quite regularly watching this movie that it is located in the city of my birth.
If there is a movie whose new Candy takes its cues, looks like this movie is actually David Cronenberg’s 1986 version Fly. As Helen Lyle is abruptly overtaken by the Candyman in a jarring midway twist, Anthony transforms into a slow decomposition, a solid take on Seth Brundle’s playbook of tragic monstrosity. (It’s also worth noting that DaCosta’s approach to the film setting is also much closer to Fly, which never even names the city it’s in.)
CandyThe saving grace of in its stickiest moments is its call for levity and its unabashed efforts to entertain. A flawed attempt to say something important plays out much better in a movie that leans into the rhythms of camp and comedy than a movie that doubles down by taking itself too seriously (yes, Antebellum, I’m talking about you). Candy plays with viewers’ expectations not only to generate unease but laughter as well, as in a rhythm where a character faces the age-old option of exploring a dark basement on his own – only to slam the door and immediately back away, too gender-aware to fall into this trap. While not the most sophisticated gag, thanks to solid workmanship, it is nonetheless very effective. Globally, Candy unfolds like a sample set of the horror genre, from the strong vein of horror comedy to psychological suspense, Cronenberg’s body horror, an interlude of a 90s teen bloodbath with syrupy blood shamelessly, and even a sequence that makes Velvet scroll saw probably better than Velvet scroll saw.
CandyThe best moments of are both provocative and entertaining – top horror dishes – but its stumbles are decidedly interesting as well. While most of the film’s dialogue with the original film is deeply intriguing, for example, a particular stage in the new Candy takes to position itself as a direct sequel to the original casts a ‘chosen’ aspect of the story that is disappointingly at odds with the emphasis on collective identity rather than the individual identity exhibited in the rest of the film .
Love it or hate it, it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving this film indifferent. Both for its strengths and its weaknesses, Candy is a film meant to spark conversation, and on that front it is solidly successful.
Candy is in theaters from August 27, 2021.
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Source of header image: Universal Images