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Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in Candyman.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in Candyman.
Screengrab: YouTube/Universal Pictures




Now showing in cinemas


5/5 Stars


In present day, a decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, Anthony and his partner move into a loft in the now gentrified Cabrini. A chance encounter with an old-timer exposes Anthony to the true story behind Candyman. Anxious to use these macabre details in his studio as fresh grist for paintings, he unknowingly opens a door to a complex past that unravels his own sanity and unleashes a terrifying wave of violence.


It's been almost 30 years since the first Candyman cemented itself into cult classic horror, a monster that could appear out of nowhere if you summon his name five times in the mirror. But unlike the mindless terror unleashed by Freddy, Michael and Jason, Candyman is rooted in the collective rage of generations of oppressed African-Americans - a hive feeding off the atrocities of racial hatred.

Today, Candyman is retooled for the modern Black experience in America where endemic racism has crushed the spirit of communities, rebranded as gentrification. The infamous Cabrini Green has fallen to it as well, its decaying skyscrapers torn down and replaced by hip modern apartments inhabited by artists like Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his curator girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris). The ghost story, initially forgotten as the community disbanded, is given new life when Anthony decides to make him his new exhibition piece. But as his name starts to spread again, it leaves a trail of death among the neighbourhood's new inhabitants.

Thankfully, they decided to make this rendition a sequel to the first one rather than a complete remake, although it takes a page from the newest Halloween movies by ignoring the other two that was subsequently released. I always felt the original was far ahead of its time, tackling the abandonment of Black communities to urban decay and violence. While the neighbourhood now has shiny new buildings and people, its internal rot has never been entirely washed clean.

Helmed by Jordan Peele as co-producer and co-writer, alongside Win Rosenfeld and rising director Nia DaCosta (soon to direct The Marvels), Candyman is a culmination of forgotten rage, so wild and absolute that it doesn't discriminate. However, unlike the 90s, where its victims were mostly black, their victims are predominantly white. In true Jordan style, superstition prevents most of the Black characters from uttering his name in the mirror, and even in one scene where Brianna is faced with a choice to go down a dark basement, she pointedly says, "Nope," and closes the door.

Visually, Candyman is as visceral as its story. While some scenes will have you looking away if you're even slightly squeamish, its cinematography and fascinating use of mirrors create a nightmarish world with limited use of jumpscares. One of the most brilliant devices was the use of bees especially, looking almost like practical effects but could only really have been done by computer graphics.

Art plays a big role in the film's themes, and this is further exemplified through the remarkable shadow puppetry that tells the story's forgotten fables, and do yourself a favour by sitting through the credits for more. There's so much detail in every scene you would definitely need a rewatch to take it all in, but as much as I loved it, I'm going to need to wait a while for the unease to dissipate fully. You won't ever find me saying his name in the mirror five times, which shows the real power of this story.

This film also reminds me yet again why we need more horror in our own industry. Recently there has been a bit of a surge in the genre of locally produced films and series, but from what I've seen, none has yet adequately tapped into the horror of our country's history, yet to reckon with the many forgotten ghosts that haunt our collective psyche. Candyman might be a ghost story, but it serves as a reminder of the injustice of the past and that it can't just be swept under the rug, thinking it won't have any effect on the present. As much as it provides a certain level of catharsis, it highlights an uncomfortable truth that we should not ignore.

As Stephen King once put it, movies are the dreams of our society, and horror reflects our nightmares. I would highly recommend that you try to see the original first, not just for the sake of following the story and understanding the plot twist but to see how the themes differ. Candyman in the 90s reflected the leftover violence that dominated 80s America, while today it reflects a community's fear of their history and generational trauma being whitewashed and painted over by glossy urbanisation and hollow platitudes. Who knows what Candyman might look like in another 30 years, or, hopefully, that we would even need a new one.

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