Candyman review: A smart and chilling continuation of the legend

·5-min read

More often than not, when it's announced that a classic horror series is coming back, it's greeted with a healthy dose of scepticism from fans of the series and of the horror genre as a whole.

There was a time not so long ago that it felt like all our favourite horror movies were being rebooted or remade, mostly from Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes stable. The results (Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Friday the 13th (2009)) were woeful at worst and pointless at best, but as with Halloween (2018), Candyman has arrived to show that there is a different way.

Where David Gordon Green's Halloween decided to ignore all the other movies in the series and be a direct sequel to the first movie, Candyman chooses to go the legacy sequel route that worked so well for Star Wars. The events of the first movie have cast their own shadow on Chicago's Cabrini Green neighbourhood – and the urban legend is about to become very real again.

It proves to be an ingenious hook (sorry, not sorry) in order to revive the franchise for a new generation. Candyman might have its flaws (we'll get to that), but it's still a memorable experience that you'll want to debate long after the credits have rolled.

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

While Candyman isn't a remake, its story will be familiar to those who have seen the 1992 classic.

This time around, it's visual artist Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who delves into the Candyman legend when he moves into Cabrini Green with his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris). Cabrini Green has now been gentrified, but there are still residents who remember what it was like.

After Anthony meets one of them, William (Colman Domingo), he starts to look into the true story behind Candyman in order to find creative inspiration. The Candyman that William knows isn't Tony Todd's Daniel Robitaille, but a one-armed man who was falsely accused of planting razorblades in candy given out to children – a literal Candyman.

Little does Anthony know that by exploring the story behind the legend, he's about to add his own entry to the legacy as his sanity starts to unravel and a new wave of violence begins.

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

Whether or not you've seen the original movie, you'll know the basics of it and this echoes in the smart approach to the new movie. Candyman is an urban legend in the world of the movie so that even when Anthony uses it as an art exhibit, Brianna refuses to say his name five times in much the same way as anybody who watched the first movie wouldn't.

It's one of several meta touches that director Nia DaCosta – who co-wrote the script with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld – weaves into the story. This isn't a horror where characters make stupid decisions for the sake of a scare and while, of course, some characters do the mirror thing, it's because they stupidly don't believe the urban legend.

They learn their mistake though, often in outrageously bloody fashion. One of the movie's biggest strengths is the kill scenes as DaCosta finds inventive ways to film them, such as in the reflection of a compact mirror. It's a visually interesting movie throughout, right through to the very end of the credits.

The approach to continue the legacy rather than remake it also allows Candyman to appeal to audiences old and new. There are refreshers of what happened in the 1992 original, but they don't feel like an exposition dump and naturally work as a ghost story that Cabrini Green residents would tell each other.

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

It helps that any backstory is delivered in gorgeous animated sequences with shadow puppetry telling the story of Daniel Robitaille... and others. Candyman explores several themes and subjects, including gentrification and unwilling martyrs, but an overarching one is the cyclical nature of violence and trauma across generations. It adds a fresh element to the legend without retconning anything that's come before.

DaCosta couldn't have found a better leading man either as Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is excellent. He commits to the outlandish body horror elements and brings an authentic heart to Anthony's journey, however weird things get.

It's a performance that's far from the phoned-in turns you can sometimes get in horror, and the same could be said of the talented supporting cast. Colman Domingo gets the showier role, but Teyonah Parris elevates what could have just been the 'suffering partner' role and Misfits star Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is hilarious as Brianna's brother Troy.

The cast lives up to the strong material, so what prevents Candyman from being a five-star horror classic? For all of its smart and relatively understated approach, the final act ends up feeling rushed as things ratchet up to 100 in the space of one scene. It's rare you feel a movie could benefit from being longer, but Candyman needs more time to breathe.

Photo credit: Universal
Photo credit: Universal

While the note that DaCosta ends on is impactful and sure to have people talking, it ends up feeling abrupt. There's a lot of information thrown into a short space of time and compared to the measured build-up, it feels like shocks are thrown in for shock's sake when, otherwise, it's been a case of less is more.

It stands out because the rest of the movie is so well-executed, yet it's not a fatal error and more of a slight disappointment. Candyman might not entirely match the 1992 classic, but this smart and chilling continuation is sure to please fans and scare a new generation into never saying his name into a mirror five times.

Candyman is released in cinemas on August 27.

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