Candyman: (2020); Dir: Nia DaCosta
Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld, Nia DaCosta
(Spoiler-heavy review & analysis)
Candyman (2020) is as much a sequel to the original classic (1992) as it is another interpretation of a folktale adding to the rich Mythos of the legend of Daniel Robitaille and, his influence upon the inhabitants of Cabrini Green (Chicago).
The lines between reality and, movie Myth are blurred in DaCosta’s take on Bernard Rose’s original screenplay as much as they were within the conception of the original movie’s Meta filming process.
Rose adapted Clive Barker’s story: ‘The Forbidden’ and transplanted it within infamous Chicago housing project, Cabrini Green where he employed residents including real-life gang members as security and, extras in his film.
The level of respect and inclusiveness towards the residents of the Green mirror the contrast of class systems at play here: Rose and his crew were mere tourists in this neighbourhood who could return to the safety of their homes and hotels whereas, the residents lived here full time in an impoverished area rife with violence and, where gangs were the law.
Given the rich subject matter which focused on how glaringly different life was for the black characters compared to their white counterparts living in affluent luxury, surely then we are due a new Candyman story told by black artists and portrayed by black actors?
Enter Nia DaCosta.
Prior to filming the 2020 movie, DaCosta created her own interpretation of the Candyman Mythos- the stunning short film comprised entirely of shadow puppets in partnership with Manual Cinema.
DaCosta’s feature film includes key scenes of Candyman’s metamorphosis depicted entirely by the shadow puppetry as showcased in her earlier short.
Personally, I found these scenes to be particularly haunting given the stark visual style and off-kilter music which calls to mind silent classics like Nosferatu.
The authoritarian brutality inflicted upon innocent black people by white police and, suspicious locals in Candyman (2020) eerily echoes real world events which sadly reflect the tumultuous times we live in today.
I suppose that much hasn’t changed since the original film’s conception back in 1992; interracial marriage had only been legal in the US for 25 years at this point in time and, even today certain cultures frown upon these types of romance.
DaCosta presents us with a modern mirror to the 1992 classic; black struggle as told through the eyes of black lives.
The title credits open on a fog-draped Chicago skyline in reverse; the scene plays out upside down giving a dizzying sense of unease and this feeling continues throughout the film.
Themes of generational Trauma are cleverly entwined throughout the different incarnations of Candyman; in Nia’s tale ‘’Candyman ain’t no man-he’s the whole damn hive.’’
This genius tagline also serves as the film’s folklorian backbone as we are introduced to different disenfranchised, mistreated African-American men taking on the mantle of the Boogeyman of the Projects.
Protagonist Anthony (portrayed by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is our guide through modern day Cabrini Green- a now heavily gentrified and whitewashed neighbourhood policed by paranoid, corrupt white cops searching for any excuse to make their volatile presence felt in a largely black neighbourhood.
Anthony is the sensitive soul of the film- a true tortured artist, brooding and carrying a deep sadness too large for his shoulders to carry- a testament to Yahya’s ability to portray Trauma and mental ill health; heavily carried by his soulful eyes and downtrodden body language.
Generational Trauma plays a key role in the retelling of this story and, Anthony is our unfortunate vessel for uncovering the abuses and false accusations of many black men before him- an intrinsic part of both the classic and modern depictions of Candyman.
The idea of Candyman’s blood being so rich within the collective subconscious of the forgotten black community is a deeply clever if bittersweet, focus of Nia’s beautiful knack for storytelling.
If Tony Todd’s embodiment of Daniel Robitaille/ Candyman was the 90’s interpretation of black struggle then Michael Hargrove’s portrayal of Sherman Fields/ Candyman encompasses all of the black suffering, injustice and abuse perpetrated by whites.
Here, the idea of Trauma being passed down throughout both familial blood and, the power of Urban Legend is cleverly reflected in the different men who take on the Candyman mantle- those who have all suffered at the hands of white people.
Unfortunately, the film’s weakness lies within it’s inability or, refusal to portray any realistic acts of violence.
There is a very fine line between gratuity and realism in the portrayal of horrific acts onscreen, but I feel that the film’s choice to shy away from any lingering scenes of gore lessens it’s emotional impact upon the audience.
Rose’s original film lingered on scenes of gutting, animal cruelty, child abuse and racially-motivated killings however, these were reserved for key points in the story’s arc and were tastefully handled in that, yes they were shocking but never were they pornographic.
The original film impacted me so deeply at a young age not because of the screentime it granted it’s violence but rather because of the empathy and insight it granted it’s main antagonists- we were given time to care deeply for the Cabrini Green residents including Candyman himself- we were privy to their humanity and unfaltering spirit against a backdrop of social welfare and gang culture.
Nia’s decision to rewrite history in terms of the fictional story is a clever vehicle in which to reverse the cliches of the original- the protagonist, Helen represents the evils of the white race and, serves as a cautionary tale of a Boogeyman to black society whereas, in the 1992 film Daniel Robitaille’s unjust murderers reframed him as a crazed ‘’fornicator’’ whom had to be put down- all because he fell in love with a white woman.
Similarly, in Candyman 2020 Anthony struggles to make his art heard by the largely white middleclass which encompasses the film’s own themes: gentrification, black struggle and suffering.
He only gains recognition and infamy when real murder and violence becomes attached to his work.
Guilt lies simmering under the surface of both films; here, Anthony feels guilty for his privilege as he resides in a once-poor black community, now frequented by the Bourgeoise, middleclass and, largely white.
Antagonist William Burke (Colman Domingo) also carries a lot of the film’s guilt- decisions in his childhood both led to the death of an innocent man while also catalysing the next manifestation of Candyman; Sherman Fields.
Fields is a local man in young William’s neighbourhood who is known for his childish ways and is portrayed as a silent, smiling figure who freely gives out candy to children.
Suspicions amongst the residents that he likely has mental health issues are respectfully accepted- folks leave him be as he appears to pose no real harm despite his Cheshire Cat grin and hooked hand.
Things escalate out of control for poor Sherman during one ill-fated Halloween season when local Trick Or Treaters find razor blades hidden in their candy.
He is blamed and is laying low/ hiding in the bowels of a buildings laundry room when young William happens upon him, is frightened and whose screams alert the local (white) police presence who haunt Cabrini Green.
The white cops take matters into their own hands and beat the poor man to death resulting in another black death at the hands of white authority.
Here, the power of rumour and suspicion culminate in the creation of a dangerous folktale whispered in dark spaces- the Candyman.
Sherman’s Candyman prototype is genuinely frightening despite his tragic origin tale; his face is framed by scars which distort his once welcoming features- his smile now contorted holds sneering malice while his breath is laboured and wheezing- the sound of his guttural, rasping breath signals his approach.
This Candyman hovers mid-air; a disturbing image coupled with his hanging hook dripping viscera onto candy coloured bathroom stalls.
Much like the title credits showcasing a cityscape upside down as previously seen in Midsommar, the image of an innocent hovering around wrecking carnage upon victims in hiding is not a wholly original aesthetic- young Brandon Byers stalking his prey in James Gunn’s ‘Brightburn’ was the first time I recall seeing this unnerving movement applied to a villain as opposed to superheroes which we have been groomed into accepting in big budget studio franchises.
Another aspect which I feel lessens the impact of tension in the 2020 movie is the lack of original score; Phillip Glass’s seminal OST in 1992 complimented Candyman’s suffering so eloquently and, still provokes an emotional response from myself and, countless others almost 30 years later.
The choice of music or rather, lack of in DaCosta’s screenplay adds to the disjointed, diluted feeling- there is no dramatic score signalling danger and so, there is no building of tension during key scenes without dialogue.
Candyman 2020 did however, honour the original by including some sweet easter eggs for Horror fans.
We see homage in the form of graffiti depicting an image of Candyman’s mouth sprayed across an open doorway plus, the visage of an ethereal creature which closely resembles Clive Barker’s original paintings as seen in his short story ‘The Forbidden’.
I noticed the voice of actor Virginia Madsen who played Helen in the 1992 film who can be heard during an audio recording also showcasing original lines from the film.
Sadly, I feel that DaCosta’s effort, while visually stunning, unique and strong-willed fails in its ability to capture the hearts of the audience; I feel that this was simply down to juggling too many big ideas at once as well as, the disjointed otherworldly feel of the film which lessened its emotional impact.
Structurally the film feels like we are viewing a mirror image of the original; it’s reversal of traditional storytelling archetypes which play out non-chronologically may work wonderfully in written word but fail to emote any sense of urgency as a movie experience.
Had Candyman (2020) been granted an R-rating, perhaps it could have maintained some of the gut-wrenching impact which it had so cleverly and, sensitively set up within it’s modern take on a Cult classic.
I get the impression that DaCosta has a solid grasp on dramatic fiction, social commentary and, she owns strong storytelling skills however, she may simply not be a Horror director or, indeed a Horror fan.
Despite the buzz, Candyman 2020 fails to fully realise the spirit of the original- of a ghost haunted by his own past.
The writing is on the wall- this reincarnation may not leave lovers gripping each other in the dark but it does showcase much potential for a young director simply lacking a sting in her tail.