Way back in 1989, a young director named Bernard Rose was trying to make a name for himself. Unfortunately for him, it looked like the only way to do so was to remake a film he didn’t direct: “Candyman” from the late ‘80s. It’s a film that’s never been a hit at the box office, and while it’s a film that’s extremely important to horror fans, it’s a film that I’m not a fan of.
The 2013 remake of Tony Timpone’s Candyman, directed by Terry Zwigoff, was not a good movie. It was, however, enjoyable enough to warrant a sequel. So, the story should have ended there—right? Well, that’s not how it should have ended.
The original ‘Candyman’ was a great film that received several sequels, including the ill-fated ‘Last Call,’ which was so bad it’s best remembered as one of the worst movies of all time. It’s only fitting that the follow-up to the film, now titled ‘Candyman: Day of the Dead,’ is so bad it’s great.
In the face of black misery and death, white people become supercharged, revved up, and overtly libidinal. This is a typical situation that has played out throughout history. In this scenario, a curator and his ostensibly alternative assistant, who talks in Joy Division songs and clichés, are involved. They’re at a sleek but dingy art museum someplace in Chicago’s West Loop after hours, but there’s nothing here that suggests they’re in the Midwest. She ties him to her waistband. As the gallery’s calm lighting flickers between cherry red, ice blue, and the cold gray of projected pictures, they kiss and grind against one other with sloppy desire in front of a tiny mirror. But this isn’t just any mirror. It’s an installation by Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) that, when opened, reveals paintings depicting police brutality and lynchings in which Black individuals are turned into Black bodies.
A mirror invites terror and metamorphosis, and all mirrors have this capacity. “Candyman,” she murmurs between lips, bringing an urban legend to life. She repeats the prayer, the name, and this spell five times. A person may be seen in the corner of the mirror at this moment. A tall Black guy with mysterious features and a hook for a hand. With a single stroke visible only through the glass and not in person, this otherworldly figure slices the woman’s neck. Her befuddled companion screams, “Is this real?” as he grabs her body, blood dripping from her jugular.
He attempts to escape being caught in the same trap as a serial murderer whose visage seems to ripple across reflecting surfaces. Slit throats, concussed skulls, torn tendons, and huge quantities of blood are present in the scene, yet it fails to penetrate the viewer’s flesh. There is an error in the time. The gore is put much too intentionally to evoke the required rage. There’s no tension, creativity, silky elegance, or gritty texture in sight. It’s so dazzling that it’s bereft of any distinguishing characteristics. This sequence, like the film in which it appears, skims around interesting concepts — white desire born by seeing Black pain — but never confronts them front on.
Candyman, the Nia DaCosta-directed and Jordan Peele-co-written continuation/reimagining of the 1992 film of the same name, is tough to nail down exactly what went wrong. With the slogan “Say His Name,” the trailers and marketing built up the picture, invoking history and communal anger. We shouted, “Say her name,” before Breonna Taylor’s picture appeared on glossy magazine covers, giving fuel to a capitalist system that had betrayed her and her memory.
This Candyman, on the other hand, misunderstands the appeal of the original, as demonstrated by the art-gallery scenario. It has nothing profound to say about the current concepts it observes with the enthusiasm of someone rushing through a Dunkin’ Donuts order on their way to work. Candyman is the year’s most disappointing film, exposing not just the creative failings of those who brought it to life, but also the artistic failures of an entire industry that tries to commodify Blackness in order to increase profits.
There’s a paradox with this Candyman. His strength comes from the need to keep his reputation alive, which requires fresh murders. But why would the vengeful spirit of a Black man — Daniel Robitaille, a painter and son of a domestic servant who fell in love and got a white woman pregnant, and was then brutalized, his hand lopped off, doused in honey, bitten by bees, and set ablaze — choose to terrorize Black people in such a heinous manner? Maybe he’s a ruthless equal-opportunity murderer, but his reasoning has always bothered me.
This inconsistency seems to have been tried to be reconciled by DaCosta, Peele, and his colleagues. Candyman 2021 isn’t only Todd’s Daniel Robitaille’s spirit. Still, there is a legion of Black males who have been brutally killed by white state brutality and who function as angry spirits who are more willing to hurt white people than the Black people whose country their souls are now connected to. (However, in a flashback, one of the Candymen kills a dark-skinned Black girl, which defies the film’s premise.)
These Candymen can only be seen in the mirrors used to call them, perhaps as a spiritual echo to Ralph Ellison’s writings. Instead of a beautiful but brutalizing single figure disturbing your every move, these Candymen can only be seen in the mirrors needed to conjure them. In the absence of a character like Todd, something is missing, but the ideas are good; if only the painters could figure out what to do with them. It’s more of a show than a real experience, with tongues lolling and eyes wide open. The filmmakers of Candyman are fascinated by the Black body, but not by the spirit and mind that surrounds it.
Anthony McCoy (a scarred Abdul-Mateen) is the poster child for what is mostly promoted as Black greatness. Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), his assimilationist art curator lover, lives in the sleek high-rises that have replaced Cabrini–slums. Green’s He’s famished and in urgent need of fresh stuff. He’s been called the “great Black hope of the Chicago art scene” in the past, and he’d want to retain it.
Anthony finds himself sliding down a dark road when Brianna’s brother, Troy (a grating Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), tells him the tale of Helen Lyle — Cuts and gloom that seem more creative than anything else in the film but are given too quickly to really engage the audience — Although he is an artist, his life is entwined with Helen’s. He moves like her, digging among the wreckage of other people’s life like an invader and anthropologist. Although William (a twitchy, arch Colman Domingo), whose younger self emerges in flashbacks at different times during the tale, is the only really impoverished character in this Cabrini–Green drama.
Anthony’s mind and body begin to disintegrate after being stung by a bee near the Cabrini–Green building site, as he dives further and deeper into Candyman mythology. The sting develops into a wound that oozes and crackles its way up his arm, covering him with stings. If you’ve watched the original, you’ll notice that this isn’t so much a reinvention as it is a remixed continuation well before any “twist.” As Brianna struggles with finding corpses at the art gallery, the camera sometimes changes to her point of view. This reminds her of her psychotic father’s suicide attempt. However, Parris — a beautiful lady but a mediocre actor whom DaCosta fails to mold effectively — puts a cap on such a haphazard approach.
Candyman is sluggish and unimaginative. Its script is extremely didactic, implying that movie was not made for horror fans or for a Black audience. Pedestrian directing, sophomoric thinking, and a shameful commercialization of Blackness waste every intriguing narrative element — the Candymen, the ethos of the Invisible Man. DaCosta and her collaborators have created a catastrophic engine failure by attempting to reconcile the film’s contradictions while also forging its path. The tangle of politics — about gentrification, the Black body (horror), racism, and white desire — can’t make its tangle of politics feel relevant or provocative. We are sold a substandard cultural product when Blackness is reduced to its basic essence.
A weird phrase is said by a white art critic who harshly and stereotypically criticizes Anthony’s work at the art exhibition. “It talks in didactic media clichés about the gentrification cycle’s ambient violence,” she says. Your species is the true forerunners of that cycle.” When Anthony inquires about who she is referring to, she replies, “Artists.” It would be one thing if DaCosta stopped there, but it becomes a through-line in which Black and white gentrifiers are compared, as if they both had the same ability to alter their surroundings and soften the culture of a place and community.
Horror has always been political, and it works best when visuals, characters, and aural aspects all speak to the fundamental issues of the piece. Candyman, on the other hand, moves in a way that speaks to both the current state of Black filmmaking in Hollywood and the so-called prestigious horror boom, in which its creators can’t seem to find a political message that they won’t hammer you with until you’re as battered and screaming in agony as the characters onscreen. DaCosta’s tumbles and fizzles, in contrast to the original, heaves and breathes with juicy contradictions and perfect artistic compositions.
We have to speak about Jordan Peele’s creative efforts outside of his directing at this point, which I’m OK with. Peele is well-versed in the genre he’s investigating, but he lacks the zeal and skill to bring it to life. Peele knows a lot about them, but he can’t bring them to life with the vigor and talent required. Between producing the abominable Twilight Zone refashioning and the sloppy and at times offensive Lovecraft Country, as well as having a hand in writing Candyman, it’s clear that he knows a lot about them but can’t bring them to life with the vigor and talent required. In her 2018 first feature Little Woods, DaCosta displayed elegance and emotional inquiry. It aroused my curiosity as to where she’d go.
Candyman, on the other hand, has little resemblance to DaCosta’s voice, much alone that of any other bright artist with a unique point of view. This may be because studios are pushing fresh talent from tiny independent films to bigger IP-related productions, skipping the now-defunct mid-budget work where stars were historically discovered and directors developed their vision. Candyman foresees a gloomy future for Hollywood, as well as the jobs it will commission, especially from Black artists. In comparison to past decades, there is a definite edge to how studios attempt to commodify Blackness and how Black directors are recruited to do so. Our frantic yearning for change, fuelled by the upheavals of the previous year, is smothering us here.
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