If there was one criticism I would make of Nia DaCosta’s Candyman sequel, it’s that I wish there were more of it.
Which isn’t really a criticism at all, when it comes down to it. No, this movie is just so good – so rich, so full of life, the characters so full-blooded (or de-blooded) and fascinating that it’s hard not to want more. An hour and a half doesn’t feel like enough time to spend in this sublime sequel, but we’ll get to that when we get to it. First, let’s talk about just why this movie had me hungry for more.
I’m a huge fan of the original Candyman, and I’m honestly surprised that it’s taken so long for the modern prestige horror boom to bring this story to the present day; with a plot fitted around the myth of Candyman, it’s got a malleable premise that allows for an easy modern update that reflects modern social issues. The biggest and most significant update, though, is the shift in focus; from a white woman (Virginia Madsen) leading the search for Candyman to a black man (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, as Anthony) exploring the old mystery of the neighborhood he grew up in.
And I think this change is probably the smartest thing the film could have done. Moving from an outside perspective to an inside one makes this version of Candyman feel all the more personal, all the more engaging; Abdul-Mateen II is a brilliant lead (just in case Watchmen didn’t convince you), and Anthony is a compelling leading man; having grown up in the Cabrini Green of the original movie, he’s now a respected artist searching for new stories to inspire his flagging work. Through Anthony, we meet Candyman through the people who grew up under his legend, who knew clearer than anything what he meant and why he was so important.
And the artistic bent to his career gives DaCosta plenty of room to play with strikingly stylish cinematography; this is a woman who knows how to string together an inventive scare, and shoot it like a particularly nasty Giallo horror. Jordan Peele and DaCosta’s script has plenty of the former’s signature sly humour, keeping the movie from dipping into too self-serious despite it’s heavy themes and deep roots; it’s a gloriously well-balanced tone, remembering the inherent absurdism of this genre as well as how well it can be used to execute genuinely important stories.
Honestly, it feels as though there are so many stories going on here at once; Anthony’s, of course, and his mother’s (the original Candyman’s Vanessa Williams, in a superb one-scene wonder of a performance), and on top of that, local Cabrini Green resident Colman Domingo, not to mention the wider art world that surrounds Anthony, including his troubled girlfriend (Teyonah Parris). This isn’t focused on just one iteration of Candyman, but almost all of them at once, and the tantalizing promise of those stories left me wanting more by the time the credits rolled.
Basically, what I’m saying is that I want to see Nia DaCosta take on every version of the Candyman story that she touches on in this outing; she’s got the chops, she’s got the style, she’s got the understanding of how these myths work and why they’re important. Candyman left me, sweet-toothed, wanting more, and I can’t wait to see where this series goes next.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via Empire Online)