Candyman Jordan Peele Nia DaCosta

Candyman gets a stylish reboot from Jordan Peele and director Nia DaCosta

Co-written and produced by Peele, this new take on an underrated horror franchise tells a familiar story well.

Bernard Rose’s 1992 film Candyman is often lumped in with other slashers of the period based mainly on the striking and memorable look of its protagonist / villain, Tony Todd’s titular Candyman. On the surface, the image of a tall, lanky African-American man with a hook for a hand can easily be filed alongside the hockey-masked Jason or the disfigured, blade-fingered Freddy Krueger. The film that Candyman comes from, however, has more on its mind than your average slasher. It’s surprisingly intellectually motivated for a studio slasher, exploring concepts of gentrification, white flight, race in the United States and semiotics while also delivering the expected bits of gore and cheap thrills. Horror has always been inherently political, but Candyman bridged the gap between the overtly political and the overtly horrific years before it became the much-maligned trend of “elevated horror.”

All this to say that it’s no surprise, then, that the Candyman franchise lives again through the involvement of Jordan Peele, whose breakout hit Get Out owes a lot to the original. Peele produced and co-wrote this new installment, but it’s really director Nia DaCosta who leaves the biggest impression with an exacting, deliberate style that updates the original’s mildly tweedy and academic approach. The original Candyman was already overtly about issues of race in America — suffice to say that things have not really gotten better on that front, and DaCosta’s take on the material remains relevant without necessarily feeling too on-the-nose.

Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a painter and visual artist living in a luxurious condo built upon the very same lot that used to house the controversial housing project of Cabrini-Green. Anthony’s girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) works as the director of an art gallery and, by all accounts, is the one to bring home the bacon while Anthony struggles with painter’s block. While searching for inspiration in what remains of Cabrini-Green, Anthony meets a former resident (Colman Domingo) who tells him of the urban not-so-legend of Candyman, a vengeful spirit who appears to anyone who says his name in the mirror five times and murders them. Anthony begins using Candyman as inspiration for his paintings, unwittingly bringing the vengeful spirit back.

Candyman, starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris and Colman Domingo

DaCosta favours a sparse and deliberate style for much of the film. Though the character of Candyman lends itself to grand guignol excess and spurts of gore, many of the film’s outwardly horrific sequences are restrained and stylish. In one instance, we watch someone get tossed around by Candyman through their apartment window, the camera sitting on the extreme other end of the property; in others, people get gruesomely killed off-screen as blood seeps into frame. What would generally seem like crafty methods of bypassing censorship become stylish and dynamic in DaCosta’s hands; clocking in at a trim 91 minutes, Candyman nevertheless feels deliberately paced and confident.

It’s also undeniable that the sociopolitical themes at play here are not exactly presented subtly. Peele’s always had sort of a heavy hand when it comes to confusing text and subtext, something that Candyman doesn’t fully avoid, either. Characters come perilously close to just stating the subtext outright, which leads to some fairly clunky dialogue scenes, but subtlety and horror don’t necessarily have to go hand-in-hand.

I suppose the closest thing I could compare Candyman to is David Gordon Green’s Halloween. As a modernized version of a beloved classic (albeit one considerably less beloved than John Carpenter’s original), the 2018 version of Halloween doesn’t take any radical chances, but it remains practically a best-case scenario considering that horror sequels and reboots have a pretty high bar to clear in general. Candyman doesn’t condescend to the audience, it looks good, it’s well-acted and it’s efficient. What more could you ask for? ■

Candyman opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Aug. 27. Watch the trailer here:

Candyman, directed by Nia DaCosta, co-written and produced by Jordan Peele

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