Candyman, written by Nia DaCosta, Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld, and directed by Nia DaCosta, takes us back to a now gentrified Cabrini-Green. The previous Candyman from 1992 dealt with issues of race and poverty through the white lens of visitor Helen Lyle; this new one focuses on racism and white violence through a Black people lens. Candyman builds on the mythos with stylish kills, fantastic acting, and a focal shift, allowing a richer exploration of Candyman despite loose storylines and short runtime. 

Mild spoilers ahead, so here’s your warning!

Candyman’s Acting Is Great; Some Characters Lack Depth

Yahya Abdul-Mateen is wonderful in Candyman! He uses his voice, expression, and full-body language to convey the levels of Anthony’s descent. Some moments leave you as uncomfortable as those near him. Colman Domingo is always stellar and does not disappoint here. His delivery and acting stay at the top levels. Rodney L Jones III does, sets the scene for Billy’s (William) evolution. The same goes for Teyonah Parris as Anthony’s partner, Brianna Cartwright. 

The issue is few characters get room to develop through the Candyman. Particularly, Teyonah’s character. Scenes exploring her past have no resolution yet are left in the final cut. They were either abandoned or tease a sequel, but it feels like the former. Troy’s mom, Anne-Marie McCoy (Vanessa Williams), enters the film then is gone. She’s onscreen for less than five minutes. 

Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is funny as Brianna’s sibling, Troy Cartwright. He provides humor whenever he appears; however, the character doesn’t move beyond that. He has the one-liners delivered with caustic wit, but that’s it. Films have used the one-dimensional Black sidekick or friend for white films that do nothing but provide comic relief. I do not want to see this continued with another group. There should have been a deeper dive between Brianna and Troy’s shared history. 

Troy’s partner, Grady Cartwright (Kyle Kaminsky), seems chosen based on the need for a “good white.” The rest of the white people in Candyman are problematic, i.e., microaggressions to physical assault. Films that don’t center on white people have that one decent white person for white audiences to relate to, and here it’s Grady. In Black Panther, it was Ross. 

Candyman Has Cinematic Directing & Kills Are Sleek

Candyman scene with Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) standing in the street, holding a camera.
Candyman scene with Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) courtesy of Universal Pictures

Nia DaCosta does a great job directing Candyman. It’s stylish and moves with a purpose. The wide-angle shots give the film a broadness and scope on par with the subject, and audiences will keep looking at the background for anything creepy. The color palette—not to mention shapes—are rich and work magnificently with the violence onscreen. There were occasional tonal missteps, particularly with the first kill. The first kill reminded me of Jurassic Park, and I almost yelled “fifth gear” aloud. Riveting to watch nonetheless. 

The bathroom murders from the Candyman trailer were remarkable. Trina (Ireon Roach) witnessing the demise of her mean classmates speaks to the fact that even when Black people are not victims of violence, we are often unfortunate witnesses or periphery victims of it thanks to white people. Though not a fan of body horror, I appreciate the detail as Anthony’s body rots and transforms.  While there are graphic scenes, they don’t cross the boundary into explicit for shock value. 

The inclusion of Manuel Cinema’s puppetry for Candyman—inspired by Kara Walker’s shadow puppets—has a unique tension. That combined with that haunting, minimalist version of the score from the original film, launched everyone’s excitement into the stratosphere. 

Story Still Holds Promise

If the film was longer and it was less dialogue to help white people “get it,” the film would’ve been better. Brianna talks about Anthony’s literal art piece not leaving “much room for viewer interpretation,” and Candyman suffers from this same affliction. It felt like other styles and writing was jarring against DaCosta’s—even the intro music was too similar to Us.

The film deals with racism over generations and the cyclical nature of oppressors and oppression. The form of harm mutates and evolves, yet the impact remains unchanged. Like Brianna said, “white people built the ghetto, then erased it when they realized they built the ghetto.” But they erased the location because it’s unsavory with no changes beyond cosmetic.

White people usually walk away from their harm unscathed, but here that changes, and it is terrific. The majority of Candyman’s victims onscreen are white. In this way, it’s like Skeleton Key because messing with spirits is “white people sh*t.” Remember that girl who summoned Baron Samdi? The ending and the fact that white people are the victim in that film because they, truth be told, lack sense is what made the end so memorable and funny. Same with films like 1408. They think their whiteness shields them from even paranormal terror, and they are mistaken. 

However, the potential is there, and a sequel created by Nia DaCosta alone could realize it. Thanks to the profound topics explored, the film escapes the label “bad”; however, due to dangling storylines, missing tension, and a truncated runtime, it also eludes “great.”

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