One time in college, I was visiting a friend’s house outside of Atlanta and I noticed a candy bowl on a baker’s rack near the wall. I grabbed a piece and ate it. It tasted terrible. I don’t remember if I managed to swallow it or spat it back out in my hand. Either way, the recent Candyman reminds me of that bowl of candy.
It had sat there too long. It looked good. But inside, there was a horrible taste. It wasn’t what I was expecting, which was a shame because it looked good.
Originally proposed a few years ago as a sequel/reboot of the 1992 original, I was enthused. Jordan Peele was co-writing and co-producing it. The 1992 original was an eye-opening look to people how the horrible economic policies of the Reagan-Bush Administration, and let’s face it, just about everyone both Democrats and Republicans for the last 30 years, who allowed people to live in very substandard housing as the “War on Drugs” made them poorer and more down-trodden.
The Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago was one of the worst ever, if not the worst. I can’t go into details, but plumbing didn’t work. Trash wasn’t picked up that garbage chutes piled up for many stories, so people threw it out into the yards from their high-rise concrete apartments. The housing authority put up fencing to prevent this. People, who hadn’t even jaywalked, were literally living in prisons in so many ways.
Then the Cabrini-Green was condemned and demolished about 20 years ago in a process called “gentrification.” For anyone expecting an examination of how the new Candyman would look at this, well, then, it’s like that piece of candy. There’s nothing appetizing about it.
Set in 2019, the movie follows Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), whose kidnapping as an infant was the focal point of the original. Now, he’s grown and a rising visual artist in Chicago. He’s got a girlfriend, Brianna “Bri” Cartwright ( Teyonah Parris) whose the director of an art gallery. Bri’s gay brother, Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) recalls the misconstrued facts of how Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen in the 1992) kidnapped a baby and decapitated a Rottweiler, before walking into a bonfire to her death. Anthony becomes intrigued and visits the old Cabrini-Green neighborhood where the events supposedly happened in Troy’s story.
The images of rundown abandoned housing set among the skyline of highly style skyscrapers is an image director and co-writer Nia DaCosta uses to examine contrasts of the literal highs and lows of Chicago. Anthony meets a nearby laundromat proprietor, William “Billy” Burke (Colman Domingo) whose young life is told in a prologue in 1977 where he is approached by someone who may be the Candyman in a basement laundromat at Cabrini-Green. Cops on patrol in the area hear his screams and rush in to save him and then beat and fatally shoot him. It’s Anthony hiding from hearing a police siren that leads to him meeting Burke.
But as Burke tells Anthony, it was Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove) a regular man who had the misfortune of having a hook where his right hand was. He passed out candy to local children. Police suspected him of putting razor blades in candy that harmed a while girl. Weeks after Fields was killed, more tainted candy was found, meaning that Fields was innocent. He was just a nice man who disability people mistook for an urban legend.
Burke tells Anthony of the “Candyman” myth and Anthony decides to make an art exhibit of it displaying it at the art gallery where Bri works. Not long after this, some people are murdered and later at a community college in the same area where Cabrini-Green once stood.
At the same time, Anthony starts to notice what seemed like a simple bee sting on his right hand is getting worse. And Anthony’s mind starts to go as he begins to see images in mirrors. Parris actually films the kill scenes with the use of mirrors that might have you worried about ever walking past one again.
Unfortunately, all of this set up goes nowhere. Instead we get a very odd deus ex machina ending that feels more like a cheat rather than a good payoff. Rather than focusing more on gentrification, it just mentions it in passing. There’s also an issue involving cops who are willing to shoot first and not ask questions later.
Candyman was filmed before the George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery murders, but there are several other references to real-life cases of racial injustice here. And that’s both the movie’s strong point and its weakness. While most of the victims are white people, I felt the movie was too preachy at times. DaCosta doesn’t have the “Beat You On the Head With It” approach Spike Lee does, but she doesn’t have the subtle approach Peele has shown in his movies.
At only 91 minutes with credits, which feature shadow puppets of the racial injustice, this movie feels like some stuff was cut or left out in fear of making a longer horror movie might have turned audiences off. This needs to be a little longer. There needs to be some focus more on gentrification and how people seem to forget or choose not to remember. When Anthony goes to meet his mother, Anne-Marie (Vanessa A. Williams from the 1992 original), she tells him not to speak the name of “Candyman” as she tells him the truth of his life as an infant.
“Say His Name” is used in a fearful manner. Where as we tell people to speak the names of those killed at the hands of racial injustice, at the same time, we can’t recall the name of the one person out for revenge out of fear it will summon him. “Candyman” almost seems like a racial epithet. In a world in which white people get mad they can’t say the “N-word” while black celebrities say it, you get a hint what the filmmakers are trying to say
But yet, this movie fumbles when it seems to be building up to a greater movie like the original. The very short cameo by Tony Todd, who played the titular character in the first three movies, seems like an afterthought. Todd’s performance as Daniel Robitaille, who was tortured and killed for his relationship with a white woman in the later 19th Century, was the high point of the 1992 original. His deep echoing baritone voice and creepy gaze was what helped make the movie so wonderful.
With a $25 million budget, Candyman made $77 million. I’m not sure if a sequel is planned. The ending does hint that a sequel could be possible. And there’s enough in the news regarding racial injustice to give it a “Ripped from the Headlines” plot. But I think the disappointment from fans of the original, including myself, might prevent that.
It really could’ve been something, for lack of a better word, sweeter.
What do you think? Please comment.