2021’s candyman opens in the 1970s and Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove), nicknamed the Candyman, is accused of handing out candies with razor blades in them. He is wearing a shearling coat and has a hook on his left hand. Fields cuts a creepy figure with his aloof look and crooked smile, resembling the original Candyman Tony Todd. When a young white child is given a candy with a razor blade in it, the local police are suddenly interested in finding out the source. Unfortunately, it’s all based on Fields being beaten and killed by the police. This is a very different origin from what we know about Danielle Robitaille in the first movie, but there’s a reason for that.
The real focus of the story is Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a visual artist looking for inspiration and finding it in the desolate shell of Cabrini Green. He is drawn to the Candyman mythology and has a burning desire to create art based on this urban legend. He meets a local laundromat worker William Burke (Colman Domingo) who gives him an overview of all the chaos he’s been missing.
As McCoy makes art, he begins to see visions of Sherman Fields, and a seemingly mean bee sting on his hand begins to rot and eat away the living tissue on his arm. His girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris) is naturally concerned about him, but is working towards her own goal of becoming a gallery curator. Eventually, Anthony discovers that his connection to Candyman is deeper than ever suspected. As he unravels this hood legend, he begins to understand his place in the Candyman mythos.
Nia DaCosta, Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld did well by creating a new modus operandi for the franchise, taking it in a different direction. In this modern retelling, Candyman is less of a terror to the black community and almost seen as some sort of anti-hero against white supremacy. The new film takes the Candyman title away from one man and makes it more of a generational curse that exists among black men being abused by a white supremacist system. What’s frustrating is that the stories are being forced to give way to social commentary on the nose. DaCosta and Peele’s debut films are great because the subtlety of the commentary isn’t preachy, but rather a new way to create stories of social injustice. Therefore, it is difficult to understand why they do the opposite in this film.
But just because the writing isn’t subtle, the way DaCosta carries out her direction is. She prefers the slow burn that works for this particular horror character and it’s something she’s known to do well. In this case, however, it takes away the horror elements needed to raise the stakes. Death scenes are tame and happen off screen and are replaced by a social edge. The most effective horror is about creating a healthy balance between the two, but candy man is one-sided.
The 1992 film was told through the eyes of impoverished people who have no choice but to sit and live with the terror caused by the legend. But this new version of the legend spends a lot of time with a bunch of upper-middle-class yuppies who dismiss Candyman as nothing more than a story poor people made up, because with money, you don’t have to worry about your livelihood. Why was that necessary?
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