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Review: ‘Candyman’ Treads the Thin, Bloody Line Between Slasher Horror and Real-Life Tragedy

August 26, 2021Ben MK

The release of the original Candyman back in 1992 coincided with a turbulent time in America — racial tensions were at an all-time high following the brutal police beating of Rodney King and the L.A. riots were still fresh on the minds of audiences. Fast forward nearly thirty years to the Black Lives Matter movement spawned from the senseless killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others, and it seems like little has changed. In other words, what better time to resurrect the urban legend that is the Candyman for a whole new generation of moviegoers?

This time around, the story revolves around Anthony McCoy (Aquaman's Yayha Abdul-Mateen II), an up-and-coming artist who's recently moved into the Chicago neighborhood of Cabrini-Green, along with his girlfriend, art gallery director Brianna Cartwright (WandaVision's Teyonah Parris). Once the site of a public housing project so infamously neglected that it had to be demolished, the area — much like several others like it around the city — has now been gentrified, the original row houses and apartment blocks replaced with high-end condos encased in sleek glass exteriors. Unlike other neighborhoods, however, Cabrini-Green is also home to a terrible shared pain that has manifested itself as an even more terrifying boogeyman. And as Anthony begins investigating the community's disturbing history for his next art project, he finds himself drawn into it in a frightening way.

Enter William Burke (Fear the Walking Dead's Colman Domingo), the owner of a laundromat that happens to be located next door to the art gallery where Brianna works. As a longtime resident of the community and someone with a personal experience to share about the Candyman legend, William becomes Anthony's personal guide to all things Cabrini-Green. Little does Anthony realize, though, that William also has his own motivations for helping him on this journey of discovery. So when his quest for artistic inspiration inadvertently brings about a new series of gruesome murders, Anthony must come to terms with his own role in the bloody violence — an acceptance of responsibility that culminates in a shocking revelation, forever securing his place as part of the lore.

Directed by Nia DaCosta from a script she co-wrote with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld, the result has been marketed as a spiritual sequel to the 1992 original, when in point of fact it's actually more of a direct followup (its two '90s sequels notwithstanding). In some ways, this works in the film's favor, allowing DaCosta to build on the mythology created by director Bernard Rose and author Clive Barker three decades prior. But at other times, the movie feels somewhat stifled by and far too beholden to its predecessor, which might leave viewers who haven't seen the first film feeling disconnected from and less invested in the narrative. Suffice to say, it's fans of the original cult classic that will no doubt get the most out of this iteration of the tale.

Otherwise, this 21st century retelling offers plenty to get creeped out about, from its aspects of body horror to the requisite splattering of gore. For the most part, however, Candyman uses its platform to shine a light on present-day issues surrounding systemic racism and the injustice it breeds. Whether or not those themes overshadow the film's more straightforward genre trappings, on the other hand, is ultimately left for viewers to decide.

Candyman releases August 27th, 2021 from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references. Its runtime is 1 hr. 31 min.

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