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PLAYING BY THE HOOK
Director: Nia DaCosta
Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Win Rosenfeld, Nia DaCosta
Starring: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Tony Todd
Review: Dave Stephens
Continuing the current tradition of reinvigorating horror franchises by simply reusing old titles for new films ("Halloween"… twice, "The Thing", "Wrong Turn", et al.), here we have the reboot-quel of "Candyman". Actually, that's a little unfair and cynical, as many genre fans have been looking forward to this Jordan Peele-driven film immensely and are expecting great things from it. After the acclaimed Bernard Rose classic in '92, there were two direct-to-video sequels, "Farewell to the Flesh" in '95 and "Day of the Dead" in' 99. Each one basically recycled the original plot with a little bit more backstory, but rumours had been rife of a reboot since the early years of the millennium. And just like "Halloween", this eventually morphed into a direct sequel to the original film whilst modifying the sensibilities for modern audiences. Produced by Peele and filmed by talented director and screenwriter Nia DaCosta, this has claimed boffo box office takings in the US. Opening at number one in the charts, it has become the first film directed by a black woman to do so. So, show us the honey.
After a brief prequel in Chicago's Cabrini-Green projects during the 70s, we're in the modern-day windy city, where the rundown ghettos have been gentrified into penthouse apartments and art galleries. Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is an artist struggling to produce new artworks, whilst his girlfriend (Teyonah Parris as Brianna Cartwright) tries to promote his stylings and push his profile. Hearing the local urban legend about Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen's character from the original film), he delves into her story for inspiration and learns about the Candyman lore. Suffice to say, hook-handed killings start to suddenly afflict the affluent members of the Cabrini-Green district…
This is solid and efficient modern horror, doing what modern continuations should do for classic horror characters; making them relevant and scarifying for new and old fans alike. That said, there are some minor reservations to which we'll come to in a minute. Highlighting the overriding positives to begin with… There are some creepy-ass moments to this film! Not least of which is the opening studio credits (all reversed, leading you to wonder if the projection system is fried) and the title sequence, which also cleverly changes the perspective of the original film (remember Rose's stunning overhead shots of Chicago?). The excellent cinematography and very cool score (from Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe) mix well with the imagery, where Candyman murders from a mirror universe. His shade is only seen in reflections, but his hook's effects on human skin are lethal. The gallery murders are nasty, and the murder seen from a distance in a high-rise apartment is almost Hitchcockian or Argento-styled in execution (pun intended).
The mythos of urban legends is modernised nicely, with credible reasons for half-wits to speed their own demise by saying you-know-what five times. There's an understandable and timely focus on the negative interactions with the (largely faceless) cops in the district, and some interesting social points are made. For instance, it's touched upon that Helen's death was necessary to keep the Candyman myth alive, as a white woman's death in a largely black community attracted the required attention, which is proven in the first ten minutes of the plot. The pretentious and vacuous nature of the art industry also gets a damned good kicking, and rightly so. All lead actors, including Abdul-Mateen and Parris, do some good work with a couple of great and passionate soliloquies.
It all leads to a climax that, whilst it is thematically satisfying, feels at odds with some of the events of the first and this movie. It's hard to elaborate without spoilers but suffice to say that all the talk of "innocent blood" and some of the victims in the film(s) don't really fit in with the final manifestation of an entity. The idea of "hives" and evolution can be applied, but it still grates a little with what has come before. Especially with the final "quote" from the aforementioned villain, who has been revised with a more definite purpose, rather than just that of pissed-off-spectral-entity-with-a hook-on-his-hand-and-a-chip-on-his-shoulder. The plot is also quite lean, although the direct link between the two is handled nicely. Don't let those minor gripes put you off, though. This is an important genre film for 2021 and likely to make as much of a mark as Peele's "Get Out" and "Us" made previously. Also, good to note that we saw this non-streaming theatrical release at a packed multiplex screening with favourable responses from all the audience. Who can bring horror fans back to the screen? The Candyman can!
This is great horror and a more-than-worthy sequel to the original. An intelligent screenplay and powerful performances work well with some cool scares and some great visuals. The plot is very slight, and some aspects seem at odds with the final message. Otherwise, this is a sweet evolution of the franchise.
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