If horror films are a comment on the concerns of the society in which they are made, then Candyman is the perfect example. Jordan Peele‘s amusing yet socially conscious Get Out and Us have made him a horror brand in his own right, helping to market Nia DaCosta‘s deconstructive reboot/sequel to the Candyman franchise. It may seem like Peele’s name is overshadowing the film’s director, but if attaching his credit to horror movies directed by up-and-coming filmmakers helps to get these sorts of films funded, I don’t think it’s a problem. Candyman is an eerie, atmospheric piece of cinema that needs to be experienced on the big screen to be truly enthralling, and a terrific showcase of DaCosta’s skills as a director.
The film follows Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who in trying to find inspiration for his next painting comes across the urban legend of the Candyman. As he starts to use the Candyman as the subject of his work though, horrors are unleashed upon everyone around him, and Anthony must face the sinister figure which seems strangely connected to him…
Candyman’s ability to appear in mirrors (upon uttering his name five times) is an unsettling concept, and one that DaCosta uses to great effect throughout. His early appearances are fleeting glimpses, too distant to get a good look and framed so as to not draw attention to his presence, and yet the incredible sound design and musical score by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe maintain the suspense that he may be in any and every reflective surface. The camera frequently flips between a “mirror” world and “our” world, or lines them up side-by-side in interesting ways; even the production company logos at the start are cleverly flipped as if being mirrored. The camera work is careful and deliberate, never feeling too showy but easing the audience through the story with precision. Expository dialogue is often complimented with shadow-puppet visuals, creating some truly haunting sequences – especially as the origins of the Candyman are explained.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is a terrific screen presence, with some endearing quirks to his performance that result in a character that feels more “real”, while Teyonah Parris does wonders with so much of her personality expressed through facial expressions and reactions; that’s not to say that the character is underwritten, but Parris’ performance adds so many additional layers to her. It’s no surprise that Parris is re-teaming with director Nia DaCosta for The Marvels next year. Colman Domingo delivers his Candyman history lessons with a haunted look behind his eyes, although his role in the film’s events feels frustratingly inconsistent. At points it feels as if he’s supposed to be mentoring Anthony regarding the Candyman, but most of his dialogue feels entirely expository.
While Candyman‘s 90-minute running-time means that the film never outstays its welcome, it also ends up feeling slightly underdeveloped, as though it’s setting the stage for sequels that can expand on the concepts in greater detail. It’s a slick, well-directed horror film, but the final ten minutes or so rushes through so many ideas and makes so many huge narrative jumps that it’s difficult not to feel slightly underwhelmed when the film ends almost abruptly. If this is a franchise-starter, then I look forward to seeing where future Candyman films go, even if as a standalone film it feels just slightly disappointing. The end credits animation is superb, however, and well worth sticking around for.