"Is this real?"
Though the fourth film in the franchise, Candyman serves as a direct sequel to the 1992 original starring Virginia Madsen. In much the same vein as 2018's Halloween, this "spirited sequel" works to navigate the modern world we live in as it tackles some heavy subjects surrounding its central premise.
Referenced on numerous occasions, Madsen's Helen Lyle appears exclusively through archival footage and voiceover, though her presence never ceases. The film begins in 1977 when a young boy, while doing laundry, is spooked by a man living in the walls of his apartment building in the Cabrini-Green projects. We'll revisit that moment on occasion throughout the film, it providing an eye into the world of Candyman and the myth that keeps him alive.
But the majority of the film takes place in the present, 2019 to be exact. The timeline would have made more sense had the pandemic not delayed the project for over a year. But alas, not much has changed since then … errr, somewhat.
Regardless, the film centers on Yahya Abdul-Mateen II's Anthony McCoy, a struggling Chicago-based artist who cannot seem to find his inspiration. When a new friend (Colman Domingo's William) introduces him to the story of Candyman, he immediately becomes obsessed, using the mystery surrounding the story as an influence on his pieces.
Director Nia DaCosta works to showcase the tone of the story. Utilizing complex camera work, she focuses on the buildings that have replaced the Cabrini-Green projects, allowing them to become a character unto themselves, calling back to the original film as it provides a linkage to both the myth and its key players. The film's opening credits appear in front of a series of shots showcasing the towering apartment buildings nestled above the clouds. The metaphor rings loud and clear, setting the stage for a film that attempts to ask the big questions.
Peele's hands are all over this film, and with good reason. An undeniable force within the genre, the Academy Award-winning writer and producer, has a way of articulating a broader message within the confines of a story. On the surface, Candyman is simple. But beneath the outer layer lies a story rich in progressive viewpoints that plant the mythical film in a realistic world.
As McCoy digs into the legend of the famed hook-laden killer, he submerges deeper. By way of a series of deaths, his art becomes a talking point amongst the elite in his industry, an industry he has perilously chased for affirmation. But even he is beginning to question the motive.
One of the more memorable moments of the film takes place between McCoy and an art critic. The language, pompous and, at times, imperious, sets a distinct mood, instantly putting a face on the opposition as it clearly defines the good and the bad. It's this unique bit, one that repeats some minutes later, that unapologetically sets the tone for the film moving forward.
It is no secret that this film is Abdul-Mateen's from start to finish. It's hard for it not to be - both conceptually and narratively. But you cannot overlook the work of his co-star Teyonah Parris. Her turn as Brianna Cartwright, McCoy's live-in girlfriend, is stellar as she serves as a sane mind, holistically managing the moment, working tirelessly to advance her career and care for her senseless partner.
When the final moments come, you aren't sure about your feelings. While DaCosta keenly balances the gore with the tale, embodying the original's viewpoints on horror and psychological torment, there seems to be so much story left to tell. But the final sequence does not disappoint. The 1992 film is a personal favorite. The wait for a worthy sequel was long overdue, but I cannot complain. DaCosta has risen to the challenge, giving us a politically charged horror story that, while not overly scary, is beautifully haunting in every way.