Review by Sean Boelman
The original Candyman has received a critical reevaluation in the nearly thirty years since its release, becoming somewhat of a cult classic even if it isn’t deserving of that status. The sequel/reboot (a la 2018’s Halloween) of the same name rides off of that goodwill but has too overstuffed a script to be effective.
The film follows an artist in the now-gentrified neighborhood of Cabrini-Green who becomes obsessed with the urban legend that has spread among its residents for generations. For better or worse, it’s a movie that doubles down on everything that the original did. And while the script’s anger is certainly earned, sloppy writing means that it doesn’t amount to much.
From a thematic standpoint, the film makes a lot of very good and important points, but many of the ideas feel half-baked. There’s commentary on gentrification, police brutality, White people appropriating Black trauma, and how people of color use urban legends to cope with oppression, and while all of these are conversations that need to be had, ninety minutes isn’t enough to start all of them, much less explore them.
Narratively, the movie is nearly incoherent. The story goes on so many asides and red herrings that it feels like it was the victim of studio-mandated rewrites, recuts, or both. There are a few great scenes here that show the potential it had, but it takes getting through a lot of standard horror movie garbage to get there.
The character development in the film is also lacking. Setting a movie in the art world can be tricky because it is easy to go overboard with the personalities and make everyone in the film feel annoying. And when there is an art critic who is being ridiculed (for making points that are valid about the movie, no less) is the least exaggerated side character, there’s a problem.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is a very talented actor, and he is able to elevate a role that feels shallow and cold into something genuinely effective. With a script that is so on-the-nose about everything, it is nice that Abdul-Mateen is able to add something resembling nuance to the mix. On the other end of the spectrum, Colman Domingo is hamming it up in his role, but is as captivating on-screen as always.
Part of what makes it so disappointing that the script is so mediocre, though, is that Nia DaCosta’s directorial style is so accomplished. The visuals are beyond amazing, some of the most creative work done in studio horror in years. Sequences involving shadow puppetry are absolutely mind-blowing. It would be awesome to see her get to do another film in the horror genre, but with better material to use.
Candyman is definitely going to have its share of fans thanks to the very ambitious things it tries to do, but it comes up short far more often than it is successful. Still, it’s more visually interesting than most mainstream horror movies, and it should get credit for that.
Candyman hits theaters on August 27.