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Candyman (2021)

Updated: Dec 28, 2022


We’re keeping the Halloween vibes going here at rrramble this week. We asked our team of writers to watch and review Nia DaCosta’s fresh take on the blood-chilling urban legend Candyman, released in 2021 and produced by Jordan Peele. And readers, they had some thoughts, and not all of them what you might expect...


A circular image of Candyman's protagonist Anthony, looking anxiously at something in the distance behind us. His right hand is held up, wrapped in a bandage. He is wearing a black jumper and a red beanie hat.


Sophie


I have never seen the first Candyman, so I went into this with absolutely zero expectations. But I am an absolute lover of horror films, slashers in particular, so naturally I was looking forward to it. With the film’s producer Jordan Peele having already established himself as an incredible screenwriter and director, the film had a lot to live up to.


To begin with, I was convinced Amazon Prime had a bug or something, because all of the opening credits are backwards. Eventually I made the connection of the relevance of mirrors to the storyline and the overall themes of the film. This is classic Peele, giving us some thought-provoking imagery right off the bat. This really set the tone for the rest of the film, I think the intention was to cause a slight discomfort in the viewer, and immediately I felt jarred.


The first scene genuinely sent a chill up my spine. It wasn’t the usual jump scare you would expect, but gradual and unnerving. Whilst this feeling did not linger for long, it is followed by a narrative set up that highlights the major themes of current socio-political issues addressed within the film, in this case systemic racism. The fear and discomfort prompted by the beginning scene had shifted to something a lot more insidious, something that is a terrifying reality for a lot of people.


As is the case with most of the work that Jordan Peele has been involved with or created, a running theme of the film is black people’s, particularly black men’s, relationship with society both in current times and throughout history. He has an amazing ability to evoke important discussions, and present eye-opening sequences that are, simply put, scary. He really has created a whole new level of horror, one that highlights very real fears for members of our society, which is more terrifying than any boogeyman. Is it obvious I’m a little bit of a Jordan Peele stan? I will say that this film does need to be paid attention to, it’s not something you can stick on whilst you are doing something else, it needs focus and deserves every moment.


Whilst I really did enjoy watching Candyman, I do think a Jordan Peele film is best when it's also directed by him. Don’t get me wrong, Nia DaCosta does a great job, I just feel some of the narrative would have been better communicated had it been Peele behind the camera. Nonetheless, the film really brings a new lens to the genre, and also has all the gore you would want and expect from a slasher movie. Just maybe don’t eat your dinner whilst you're viewing it, there are some places on the human body where a massive hook is really not ideal.

I would say absolutely have a watch of the film, whether you’re a horror enthusiast or not. It’s a great example of some very intelligent and important filmmaking, and I think really has the ability to appeal to a wider audience. I’m now going to watch the original Candyman (and maybe the other 2 in the series as well) and see how they compare. I hope everyone is enjoying the spooky season!


A still from the film featuring a shadow puppet of a figure with a hook in front of a yellow light

Shadow puppetry used in the film


Eve W


“Dare to say his name” is the tagline of Nia DaCosta’s 2021 sequel of Candyman. Rather than imposing a fear of the supernatural figure of the Candyman, today that statement holds as an honour to George Floyd and the many other victims of police violence and brutality. It’s a reminder of the real social concerns of the killings of many black lives who stood for change. Unlike the 1992 cult-classic, this sequel centres on the black gaze, showing the disregard for black lives in Cabrini-Green decades later. It’s darker, less of a scare-fest, and holds far more political weight.


The story centres on Anthony McCoy, an artist who moves to Cabrini-Green with his partner Brianna. After hearing about the legend of the Candyman in Cabrini-Green from a family member, Anthony decides to look into the history of the neighbourhood in hope that it will inspire a new art project. Initially shrugging off the figure as a mere folklore tale, he soon starts to unravel the true story of the Candyman after encounters with residents. We learn that the Candyman was not only real but that he is in fact several victims of oppressive violence. There’s the Sherman Fields Candyman, an innocent hook-handed man who was beaten to death by police, there’s the Daniel Robitaille Candyman in the 1890’s who was tortured and burnt alive for impregnating a noble white woman, and there’s the many others in between. As the character William Burke puts it: “Candyman ain’t a person. It’s the whole damned hive.”


What Nia DaCosta and Jordan Peele have done here is build on the thriving genre of Black Horror. I liked how they have reversed the well-known pattern of black people dying first in horror films and have taken away the shocks and scream scenes by using clever framing and shadow puppets to suggest that the violence we don’t see is far worse than the gore scenes we do. Even though these well-executed shots were clever because they underlined the film’s message to confront our own prejudices and misunderstandings of black trauma, I wish the film had more excitement and suspense to fit within the horror genre. The slashing scenes were often anticlimactic, and I felt that the mirror symbolism was overdone. I wanted more suspense, more shock, more disturbing conversations. Anthony’s character doesn’t even try to be understandable: his artwork is all abstract and his whole story arc revolves around trying to understand the folklore of the Candyman.


I suppose this is what makes him a good target for William Burke’s plan to resurrect the hooked harbinger of doom. Anthony is like the ghost-town he’s now a resident of; filled with liminal spaces (horror’s favourite trope). He goes from being a scrubbed-up artist to a man covered in bee stings and bandages. And after countless “Candyman” chants in the mirror and some hypnotisation from William Burke, he gains the hook and a mission to exact revenge on the racists.


Although I thought this sequel of Candyman raised lots of important social issues, I was left on tenterhooks. A lot of the questions about black identity were not really answered and, overall, I felt like it gave a very one-dimensional look on black lives just revolving around their trauma and not their community. Even though a lot of black history is pain, there’s so much more courageousness and togetherness in the black community that this film failed to capture.


A still from the film featuring a black man with short brown hair, wearing a paint stained shirt and sitting in front of an artist's canvas covered in paint.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Anthony McCoy



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