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Candyman ★★★★



Director: Nia DaCosta

Cast: Teyonah Parris, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Colman Domingo

Released: 27th of August

The phrase Say My Name takes on new meaning, other than being a Destiny’s Child song title, to spotlight the notion of legacy and recognition in this new gripping re-boot and sequel within the Candyman franchise.

Gone is the foreboding omnipresence of Tony Todd, as Candyman and the original buildings within the Cabrini Green projects have been replaced by shiny and luxurious apartments. Still, there are several nods to the original film. Similar to Get Out, this version of Candyman will certainly warrant multiple watches to discover all of its embedded symbolism.

Nia DaCosta has therefore successfully turned the Candyman concept on its head to create an invigorating horror film. Whose duality with social commentary and an indictment of gentrification is reminiscent of The Last Black Man in San Francisco. Therefore, audiences are encouraged to embrace this modern-day interpretation reflecting the everyday horrors within the lives of black communities.

DaCosta’s Candyman is multi-faceted with many themes to unpick, which will delight and startle in equal measure. It’s a blend of slasher movie horror along with a witty interpretation of the importance of community that emphasises the necessity for recognition of the black communities whilst centring black pain and trauma. This will be an uncomfortable watch for some. Not least for the gory scenes (which are few and far between) but also for the insight into racial injustice.

This injustice is revealed via the themes of police brutality and childhood trauma which pervade the film. Candyman follows the journey of artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) as he attempts to make a name for himself and is disparagingly referenced by an agent as the ‘great black hope’. Such comment in itself is telling of the nuances to be found within DaCosta’s Candyman. Anthony discovers the urban myth whilst exploring themes for his next big project and holds a mirror up to the legend, which has devastating effects for all. His partner Brianna Cartwright, is supportive and successful within her field as a gallery director in an impressive performance by Teyonah Parris. Brianna embodies that strong, black woman trope, which is always problematic, as she represses her own pain and trauma to support others. All the same, to DaCosta’s credit, it is pleasing to see the recognition of such a fleshed-out black female love interest with her own backstory in a horror film rather than being disposed of quickly. The prominence of Brianna’s role and her struggle is certainly refreshing to see.

DaCosta explores the harsh truths of the pain within black communities. Undertaking this has created a very effective rehash of Candyman’s origins with clever editing choices. The use of silhouettes from shadow puppetry subtly depicts the horror that unfolded merely because 19th-century painter Daniel Robitaille, played by Tony Todd, committed the social crime of falling in love with a white woman. His lynching by a mob is repeated and reflected by the modern-day equivalent of police brutality in this new version of the film. It is also likely not to be a coincidence that Parris’ character’s name Brianna is similar to that of Breonna Taylor, who was subjected to police brutality in March 2020. DaCosta therefore invites audiences to say the names of the unjustly treated and recognise those injustices as a parallel to the injustices meted out to Candyman on the screen.

Equally, the use of silhouettes to illustrate the original Candyman story is an interesting choice by DaCosta. It seemingly resembles the silhouettes used in works by American painter Kara Walker. Walker’s work explores race, gender, sexual violence and identity and has exhibited pieces depicting scenes of lynching akin to those seen in Candyman.

Candyman is therefore that figurehead representing the unjust treatment faced by the black communities. Indeed, one old-time member of the Cabrini Green projects, William, in another standout performance from Colman Domingo, highlights this struggle within the black experience as he utters that Candyman is very much real and is the way that they deal with things that happened to them and are still happening.

While there may be this portrayal of real-life horrors and minimal jump scares, Candyman remains loyal to slasher movie tropes with blood-filled scenes amplified by visceral sounds of such terror. Some of the violence does occur off-screen, but Candyman continues to haunt its audience beyond the visual representations. The film provides a thought-provoking discussion regarding a community’s legacy as well as artistic legacy. Again, Domingo’s character provides those memorable quotes as he states that ‘they love what we make, but not us.’ DaCosta is therefore shining that light on the continuous plight of black creatives like Anthony, who may just wish for someone to say their name as appreciation of their work. It is a constant struggle faced by the black communities even to this day in order to receive the same opportunities and equal treatment.

Candyman is a well-acted film, and DaCosta’s directorial vision is unparalleled despite a light plot in keeping with the horror genre. However, the heavy themes explored provide a rich sub-text and that springboard for future hope for affected communities. DaCosta’s editing style also subverts the norm with good lighting of the complexions of the lead actors, fascinating camera angles involving long takes and upside-down shots, which reflect the discombobulated effect for the main characters dealing with their internal horrors, sense of identity and trauma.

Dare or dare not to say Candyman’s name five times in a mirror to pay homage to the urban myth. Still, one thing is for certain, Nia DaCosta’s name will certainly be mentioned many times in recognition of this compelling and impactful film. There is no denying DaCosta’s talent. She has been collaborating with Jordan Peele in the #TellEveryone social justice initiative, which is in place to enable conversations on the themes displayed in Candyman.  This is certainly a positive step in the ongoing need for recognition that Candyman highlights as it provides the power to say those names out loud and leave that lasting legacy.

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