Candyman (2021)

This spiritual sequel is both scary and poetic.

I met Tony Todd at a virtual photo op, courtesy of Wizard World, and there’s a reason why I was holding a honey jar. Because his character Daniel Robitaille, A.K.A. Candyman, was tortured and covered in honey. That’s why his hook is sticky and covered with bees.

The original “Candyman” released in 1992 (the year I was born) introduced us to Tony Todd as the title demon, who comes to slaughter you if you say his name five times. “Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman.” Now, I’m screwed because I said his name five times.

Maybe not because I’m not at a mirror, which is good, but I still don’t want to risk it. And also, we have a spiritual sequel, this time written and directed by Nia DeCosta (“Little Woods”) and co-written and produced by the fearless Jordan Peele. And this time, with help from co-writer Win Rosenfield (“BlacKkKlansman”), they all provide some social commentary to the story.

For one thing, one of the Candyman’s souls, Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove) was beaten to death by the police and was accused of giving a little girl razorblades as a Halloween candy. Another thing is that the new main protagonist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is an aspiring artist, who uses his paintings to fight against the white supremacy in his community. He hears the legend of Candyman from the wise old William Burke (Coleman Domingo), and uses inspiration for his word, entitled “Say My Name.” And like the first movie, it’s told and set in Chicago.

I also did a video chat with Virginia Madsen, who played the semiotics graduate Helen Lyle in the original, and she has a voice cameo in the film. Although she seemed more enthusiastic that I knew her best from “Sideways.” Anyway, Anthony also hears the story about how she tried to save a sacrificial baby, who was kidnapped and returned.

As you might have guessed in these “Candyman” movies, people have to say his name five times in the mirror. It’s usually portrayed by idiots or jerks or journalists, so it’s easy to anticipate the stupid mistake, but it’s also riveting the ways DeCosta and the original director Bernard Rose photographs them. It’s scary to see the Candyman and his victims float, it’s horrifying to see them getting stabbed and slit, and it’s haunting to see how Anthony is some how connected to them, while his art gallery director girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) thinks he’s losing his mind.

The story gets challenging, and sometimes difficult to comprehend, but leave it to Peele, DeCosta, and Rosenfield to take a somewhat different approach to the story by representing the ongoing racism about white cops killing or arresting innocent African-Americans. It serves as one of the themes of the movie, and another issue is how white people have bought out certain communities and claimed them as their own. The latter is what Anthony was aiming his work at before he got involved with the whole Candyman legend.

The performances are also as electrifying as the original stars, even Vanessa Estelle Williams reprises her role as Anthony’s mother Anne-Marie McCoy. Abdul-Mateen II keeps pushing his roles to the very limit, and in this film, he shows the right kind of ambition. And Domingo, whom I also met and really admire, keeps us involved as a man, who knows the legend and how it plays out.

This is a spiritual sequel that you just want to talk about after, based on how you examine it. I found it to be smart, chilling, and absolutely poetic.

And one more thing: I knew the movie would play the Sammy Davis, Jr. song. I really did, and I glad they used it in the mirrored opening studio logos. If “A Clockwork Orange” ended with Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” then why can’t “Candyman” begin with “The Candy Man?”

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

Categories: Horror, Sequel, Thriller

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