beware: this films deals with racial violence
How could I not be excited to see a Candyman movie directed by Nia Dacosta and produced by Jordan Peele? Surely, the 2021 Candyman has the filmmakers behind it to challenge the white savior narrative of the 1992 original. Well... it isn't focused on a white lady anymore. It follows Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), an artist who lives with his gallery director girlfriend (Teyonah Parris as Brianna "Bri" Cartwright) in the bougie apartments of Cabrini-Green, about where the projects present in the 1992 film used to be. It basically trades a white gentrifier with black gentrifiers.
The original actually does more to humanize the residents of the projects and show their struggles. Candyman 2021 is too entangled in Anthony's ego to pay any meaningful attention to the community around him. Yeah, characters mention "gentrification," but the film doesn't bother to adequately show its effects. The one person who represents the poor residents, Colman Domingo as William "Billy" Burke, is wasted, primarily there to provide exposition and lay out the film's themes.
The movie looks great though. The death sequences are as brutal as they are inventive, including an extremely wide shot of a death you might miss, if you aren't watching on a large screen. Dacosta has a keen eye, yet her distant approach never quite achieves the dread or hypnosis of the original.
It all culminates in a messy conclusion that left me with a sense that something was missing.
*** spoilers ahead ***
The reveal that Anthony was in fact the baby that Helen saved at the end of the first film landed with a thud. Not because it wasn't surprising, but because the story does so little with it. Had the movie shown Anthony's upbringing in the midst of the demolition of the Cabrini towers and expanding gentrification, it could've provided a clearer message about how eliminating Candyman in 1992 did nothing to change the fates of the residents he haunted. Instead it glosses over history and introduces Anthony as a comfy artist.
Candyman 2021's best contribution may be its expansion of the lore. Billy Burke points outs that the legend of Candyman isn't about one person. Candyman manifests as a hive of the spirits of black men murdered by racist violence. It's a powerful allegory that ties Candyman to the racism of the past and present. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't update the motives of the Candymen themselves. Candyman is still a boogie man that kills indiscriminately when summoned. Why not have Candyman just haunt those that have harmed his people: gentrifiers, cops, racists, etc? The high school girls who called his name died because... it's just a cool kill scene for the movie?
Billy Burke, again the only character representing the marginalized, just had to turn insane at the end and transform Anthony into a Candyman... Were there some scenes cut here, because the twist came out of nowhere? It was neat to see Candymen slaughter the cops, but at this point the film had lost me. It was as if DaCosta and Peele weren't sure how to end it, so they chose a bloody spectacle and a Tony Todd cameo.
The film is not entirely awful. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II was great to watch as the self-interested artist, and there was plenty of visual style to keep me engaged. The thing is that Candyman (2021) said everything important it had to say halfway through and then kept on going without adding much insight. Though it did make me appreciate the 1992 version more.
This has been day 31 of 31 days of horror!