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TV/Film Reviews

Review: ‘Candyman’ (dir. Nia DaCosta)

Candyman (2021) is a reboot while simultaneously acting as a semi-sequel, however, it never entirely commits to being either one. Having seen the original 1992 film would only enhance your understanding of who the Candyman is, but this 2021 edition also easily stands on its own. There are several glimpses of brilliance, but it never entirely amounts to what it aimed to do.

Candyman (2021) is a reboot while simultaneously acting as a semi-sequel, however, it never entirely commits to being either one. Having seen the original 1992 film would only enhance your understanding of who the Candyman is, but this 2021 edition also easily stands on its own. There are several glimpses of brilliance, but it never entirely amounts to what it aimed to do.

Breaking down the three-act structure, I found the first act to move a little too slow, the second act to feel like it introduced some unnecessary elements, and the third act to wrap up way too quickly. It got messy with the whiplash of ideas being tossed around, but aside from that, the acting, visuals, and score make for a very entertaining piece altogether.

The storyline gets a little lost in the weeds and unfortunately turns a little bit predictable. The script comes across as a bit clunky and rough around the edges. There were lines that had really dead on arrival delivery that didn’t help the lack of substance existing in the first place. Certain phrases that felt like they were meant to hit especially hard or spark a bigger conversation ultimately fell flat. The social satire is where Jordan Peele’s influence as a co-writer is most evident, but that’s also the most finicky part of the film, unfortunately.

I’m all about a 90-minute movie, and I feel like we don’t get near enough of them nowadays, but it felt like we needed a few more minutes to flesh everything out. Better yet, we could edit out some of the earlier, clunkier and less pivotal moments to include something with a bit more closure at the end.

Yahya Abdul Mateen II is a true star — not that you needed me to tell you that — and he could easily be one of the biggest actors in the biz within the next few years. He’s far and away the best part of Candyman when it’s firing on all cylinders. I just wish he had as meaty of a role as he did in Watchmen to complement his acting persona. If nothing else, the role in Candyman is a prime example of his range as an actor.

Teyonah Parris, who you might have only first seen in her incredible turn in WandaVision, is an excellent actress who has the qualities that allow her to morph into any genre or characters she wants. While her character in Candyman lacks a little bit of depth, in my opinion, it’s evident that she’s giving it her all and doing it effortlessly.

The sad part is that the horror/thriller element of the film ends up being the least interesting part of the film. There are creepy moments and some dripping blood, but it doesn’t quite feel like the thriller you would expect it to be. Rather than opting for an easy jump-scare, though, the buildup creates an overall ~spooky~ atmospheric vibe that audiences will appreciate more. While the Candyman as villainous character is responsible for death, and he’s a super disturbing figure, the rest of the factors in the film are psychological and mental acrobatics at play.

There is some stunning cinematography, which I found especially great in the scenes set in the art gallery. Playing with the use of mirrors in film is nothing new, but the way the trope works here is relatively fresh and at least feels different and new in its approach.

I really enjoyed the repetition among the elements including the mirrors, the bees, and the consistent use of lighting, and I found them really effective in their repeated implementation.

The paper puppetry shadows have been a big part of the promotional and marketing materials for the film, and rightfully so, because they are one of the most visually interesting parts of the film. There’s something about mixing that childlike imagery with the truly terrifying storytelling of Candyman that makes for a peculiar yet striking combination.

Also, side note, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that there was a huge missed opportunity with the lack of the inclusion of the Destiny’s Child song, “Say My Name.” That would have been a truly memorable movie moment that I can just picture playing out in my mind. Anyways, back to the matter at hand.

There are some flashes and short instances that are scary, but for the most part, I don’t think the actual horror element (the gore, the blood, the jump scares) in Candyman compares to what we’ve seen recently with other horror films or series. That didn’t take away from the movie for me because I felt invested enough in the story itself that the added screams and jumps weren’t required to be successful. If you’re planning on watching this with a group of friends in the dark around Halloween, it might not be that kind of film.

A surprising and unexpected change in the direction of the narrative happens when gentrification turned out to be the prominent menacing figure at play. There is also the concept at hand about African American men being mislabeled as an entire entity as predatory and scary individuals, which is clearly not the case. As a non-BIPOC, I feel ill fit to really comment or critique on that note, but I will say that it did feel like a bit of a jarring and disjointed topic to pull into this setting. It’s an important conversation to be had, I’m just not sure that Candyman is exactly the best fitting platform for that. It reminded me of those reality competition series like Project Runway or Christmas Cookie Challenge when the judges say, “You really tried to do a lot with this, but did you need to do it all at once?” (If you follow my comparison, thank you, I appreciate you.)

Thinking extremely critically, I think this film tried so hard to be relevant, which the topics brought up definitely are, but that is also what led to its downfalls (although there very few). The level of tension remains high the entire time, even during moments of levity, because there is a constant impeding threat to worry about. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris are brilliant, and they fit together so well. After the last couple of years we’ve had, you will not catch me testing the waters by saying “his” name five times into the mirror.

Candyman is playing now in theaters. Get your tickets here.

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