Review: Nia DaCosta’s ‘Candyman’ is everything a sequel should be

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Nia DaCosta’s “Candyman” does an incredible job of encompassing the essence of the original film and adding a fresh perspective to some of the issues brought up in Rose’s “Candyman.”

Content warning: This film is rated R and contains some disturbing content, including violence, blood, some language and sexual references. This review contains major spoilers for the plot.

From Star Wars to the Jaws franchise, avid filmgoers know that sequels are almost always less captivating or well-made than the originals.

That is, almost always.

Nia DaCosta’s “Candyman,” released on Aug. 27, challenges the stereotype of the horrendous sequel, cleverly expanding on the storyline of the Bernard Rose’s 1992 film and updating it for current social dialogue while still capturing the essence of the original and conveying a moving and surprisingly empowering message for being a horror film.

DaCosta’s “Candyman” follows Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a visual artist from the Cabrini-Green neighborhood in Chicago. He draws inspiration from the urban legend of “Candyman,” who offers candy to children and then murders them with his hooked hand. If someone chants his name five times in front of a mirror, Candyman appears and kills them. Anthony becomes infatuated with Candyman, creating increasingly disturbing art until he eventually embodies Candyman himself.

New characters are introduced in addition to returning actors from Rose’s “Candyman,” since the story takes place 27 years after the original film. In the sequel, Anthony is deeply connected to Cabrini-Green, as he discovers that he was born there; as a baby, he was a major plot point in the legend of Candyman that Rose explored.

Among the issues DaCosta’s “Candyman” addresses are the gentrification of majority Black and low-income neighborhoods by the wealthy and the insidious effects of racial profiling, especially racially motivated violence against Black men by law enforcement. While these themes appear in Rose’s “Candyman,” as well as the Clive Barker story which inspired both films, “The Forbidden,” DaCosta explores the complex and often exploitative relationship between the art world and Black artists.

Anthony’s work is displayed at a gallery curated by his girlfriend, Brianna (Teyonah Parris). The gallery owner chastises Brianna for choosing her boyfriend’s piece, despite the owner’s approval of Anthony’s previous work that explicitly discussed racism. The gallery director suggests that Anthony should pull inspiration from his experiences, implying that the art world only values him when he showcases Black suffering for the approval and profit of “woke” white people.

Candyman, being a Black man who was unjustly and brutally murdered, returns when summoned to protect and avenge Black lives. When a police officer threatens Brianna with jail if she doesn’t say that an officer killed Anthony in self-defense, she summons Candyman in the police car’s rear-view mirror, and he slays all the officers detaining her.

In this scene, one shot follows Candyman’s reflection in the car windows as his physical appearance morphs from Anthony to Todd’s character and the original Candyman, Daniel Robitaille. This scene evokes the many unjust killings of Black men by law enforcement that have traumatized American culture both in recent years and throughout history.

This parallel intensifies the urban legend aspects of Candyman, symbolizes the seemingly endless cycle of Black suffering in America and satisfies the need for justice. Candyman becomes immortalized through his own victimization, and the cycle continues in this installment as Anthony is murdered, only to transform into Candyman and protect Brianna.

The modern intersectionality between art, community, race, cycles of victimization and the collective consciousness are explored in DaCosta’s “Candyman,” while maintaining a spark of nostalgia for the original film and the eerie, disturbing atmosphere of the horror genre. Rather than jumpscares and chases, DaCosta utilizes slow-burn body horror, unsettling background noises, and mirror shots to build tension, emphasize the feeling of being watched and establish Anthony’s descent into paranoia.

DaCosta’s film is co-written with Win Rosenfeld and acclaimed director Jordan Peele, who also produced the film. “Candyman” reached No. 1 in the U.S. box office during its opening weekend, marking a notable achievement for DaCosta, who is the first Black female director to reach the No. 1 spot with a debut film.

DaCosta’s “Candyman” does an incredible job of encompassing the essence of the original film and adding a fresh perspective to some of the issues brought up in Rose’s “Candyman,” while staying true to the horror genre and showcasing the brilliant acting of Abdul-Mateen II and Parris. I am excited to see more from DaCosta in the future, and more well-made sequels to modern classics.

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Grace Miller