The urban legend has it that if you say, “Candyman” five times while looking in the mirror, that you will summon a man with a hook for a hand to come and kill you. Now, I never saw the original Candyman movie from 1992, but just hearing a legend like that has me responding like Vanessa Williams in the trailer for this reboot… “Shhht.” (Covers mouth, claps hands, shakes finger, whispers…) “Don’t. Don’t say that.”
In 2021, urban legends can be researched on the internet, or show up as memes, or are shared and discarded on social media. Still, when Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) tells the story of a woman who walked into a bonfire after a series of murders in the Chicago projects (blamed on a local man nicknamed “Candyman”), his audience of his sister Brianna (Teyonah Parris), her boyfriend Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), and Troy’s boyfriend Grady (Kyle Kaminsky) is notably spooked. It doesn’t help that Brianna and Anthony live in a high rise that is in a gentrified a former project.
It turns out that Anthony, an artist, is looking for inspiration and is intrigued by the story of Candyman. As he takes photos at the abandoned Cabrini-Green projects (location of the original murders), we all know that no good is going to come of it. There is creepy graffiti, strange movements in empty buildings, and on top of that, he gets stung by a bee. A random encounter with a stranger, longtime resident of the area William Burke (Colman Domingo), confirms the legendary story and the bad, bad vibes that have always permeated the traditionally African-American neighborhood. Anthony is inspired.
When Anthony shows his newest gallery piece, a mirror called “Say His Name” (with peek-a-boo paintings of violence against black people inside), the critics dismiss it as literal and unimaginative. But you know that someone will read the description of the legend and try saying Candyman’s name for fun. And you know that is when the cinematic bloodshed will begin.
The legend of Candyman is a not-so-subtle lesson for Anthony, a black man, it is more of a lesson for the audience. Candyman, in modern times, exists as a symbol of the oppressed wanting revenge against systemic racism and violence (the screenplay was co-written by Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld, and Nia DaCosta). Candyman, the victim, represents one black man after another killed by whites. Which means there is always room for a new Candyman, the killer, to be revived and summoned to wreak vengeance on the white people dumb enough to say his name. Here comes the swarm, indeed.
Candyman is a notably gorgeous film. A horror movie has no right to be so stylish. From the opening credits (with the MGM logo backwards, like in a mirror), to the upside-down vista of Chicago skyscrapers, to the creative visuals of some of the most violent killings, the look of the film always has your attention. There is a moment where the camera pulls back from a skyscraper just as you know a victim is going to get her comeuppance. Seeing her slaughtered against her floor to ceiling windows, as though you are looking from two buildings away, is visually startling.
A mood piece, Candyman is more of a slow-burn mystery than a slasher film (though you’ll definitely get some gore by the end). It unpacks a LOT of social commentary in its short 91-minute runtime, and honestly it could have stretched out to let more of its ideas breathe a bit. But still, it is an intriguing remake and I was never bored. The Candyman, like many of pop culture’s most popular villains, actually has a tragic, sympathetic past. But that doesn’t make him any less terrifying when you see him come out of a gaping hole in the wall, luring you with a handful of candy.