The term Candyman commonly refers to two things; the ghostly serial killer from the 1992 Bernard Rose movie and that jolly guy who owns the sweet shop and sings that song in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It has been hard for me, and many around my age, to reconcile these two very disparate characters over the years, but writer Jordan Peele (who was born in the same decade as me) and director Nia DeCosta (who wasn’t) have combined them in a way that takes none of the edge from one of these figures but makes the other creepy in a way I may never be able to get past. It is the Sammy Davis Jr. version of that famous tune that plays over the opening credits of this new film and it is distorted and glitchy in a way that has taken the innocence away from Charlie’s search for a golden ticket for me, for ever.
Candyman is also a song by Christine Aguilera and a weird robot from a 1988 episode of Doctor Who but these, it seems, could not be factored in. I’m grateful.
After this unsettling start though DaCosta and Peele’s Candyman (a sequel to the original 1992 film that wisely ignores the inferior Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and Candyman: Day of the Dead that followed in ‘95 and ‘99) is not actually very scary at all. Perhaps this isn’t a surprise as Peele’s previous two horrors Get Out and Us weren’t all that frightening either but they were brilliant nonetheless and this shares some of the smart and intriguing approach of these movies.
Candyman is violent and graphic, please don’t think I’m suggesting it is a fun little gothic melodrama, but DaCosta and Peele have less interest in making a tense and jump inducing demon slasher flick than they have an artistic and thoughtful parable about racial injustice, isolationist gentrification and the cultural identity. Rose’s film touched on all of these as well, along with a more explicit examination of gender and class, but this is the first time black film makers have tackled this story and their perspective is welcome and overdue. Candyman has always been a black narrative at its heart, even though 1992’s lead was a white woman, and this gives this new version a real edge. This movie examines these themes from the right point of view.
The making of this film predates the murder of George Floyd, its release has been delayed by COVID, but it closely studies the idea of the criminalisation of black men and the true spectre of white authority and law enforcement. To say how would give too much away. Also, for a film that challenges supremacy of all kinds it is significant that this is the first movie by a black female director to have topped the US box office. Candyman recognises change yet highlights it’s limits in every way.
Candyman isn’t as good as Get Out or Us even if it does demand analysis in the same way. I think the difference between this and those movies, where Peele was on script and directorial duties, is in the subtlety. This is quite overblown in a way those weren’t, particularly toward the end. I don’t want to criticise DaCosta though because there are some wonderful framing choices here and beautiful composition in the shots. She has also brought out some strong measured performances from her cast, most notably Yahya Abdul-Mateen II who is a captivating lead. Teyonah Parris is also good and you’d be forgiven for not realising that this is the same actor from WandaVision, so different is her attitude and way of holding herself. DaCosta and Parris will work together again when the actor reprises her role from that show in the MCU’s The Marvels and I’m excited by that prospect.
Both Peele’s story and DaCosta’s storytelling pay reverence to Bernard Rose’s movie in a different manner. The narrative picks up on the original film with surprising plot points while deepening the mythology in ways only suggested by that movies closing moments. The music cues and imagery also link back neatly. To get the most from this I would definitely suggest visiting or revisiting the original.
I wouldn’t say you need to rush to the cinema to see this but I would recommend you catch it at some point. In fact watching it at home would give you the valuable opportunity to do a double bill. Just don’t be tempted to do the mirror thing, just like this confident follow up – you’ve got nothing to prove.
The Ripley Factor:
This is more of a man’s story than the original and as such avoids playing into, or with, notions of the monstrous threatening woman. What is significant is that where in Rose’s film the black women largely lived in poverty, here Parris is the middle class one. It isn’t examining the racism of excluding her from this life, it is looking at the racism of whether she is accepted and allowed to stay there. This is connected to race but it is also inextricably linked to gender.
Parris’ Brianna shows incredible strength, seeing things that would traditionally send young women in horror films screaming out of the house to their inevitable doom. This is surely down to how she has had to fight to get where she is though. There’s no privilege being shaken here.