Horror remakes have always been frustratingly hit or miss, and sometimes when a revisited property from 30 years ago can be woken up by a filmmaker with something to say, it can be thrilling. I really really wanted to LOVE Nia DaCosta’s Candyman. Every piece was in place for this to be something really, really special. Unfortunately this takes on more than a 90-minute slasher can manage, apparently. And unfortunately, a 90-minute slasher without a whole lot on its mind.
Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a visual artist living in Chicago with his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris), in a location near where the original Candyman murders took place, that has since been gentrified and is now populated by a bunch of white hipsters. Anthony decides to more deeply investigate these murders, and in doing so, finds himself entangled in the crosshairs of the Candyman folklore.
DaCosta effectively creates a creepy and brooding atmosphere, and the craft of this is never the problem. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff going on with the camerawork and the music (the paper shadow puppets already ruined for you by the trailers will linger in my mind longer than this movie ever will) and Yahya Abdul Mateen II and Teyonah Parris are really engaging leads. As someone who still hasn’t gotten around to HBO’s Watchmen, I now have a stronger reason to, because Mateen has an absolutely magnetic screen presence and I definitely left wanting to see more of him. I’ve also been really waiting for Parris to get something worthy of her for six years now, and this is a lead role and it’s insane this is the script she gets. I guess her big project might wind up being (sigh) a Marvel movie.
In the supporting cast, we have Colman Domingo giving a terrible performance as a laundromat owner who tells Anthony about the Candyman legend and (spoiler alert but who cares) might have more to do with the original mystery than we may have thought! He’s going for broad, scenery-chewing stuff here and it doesn’t ever work. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett shows up as Brianna’s gay brother who is mainly used as a kind of reductive comedic relief character, and I could have done without the stereotypical nonsense going on there.
Candyman feels like a response to the Jordan Peele-issance, interesting since Peele produced this and has partial screenwriting credit, and people seem to be forgetting this is not a Jordan Peele movie. But Candyman tries to grasp so much social commentary, it makes half-statements about a number of issues, to the point where it ends up not really saying anything substantial about anything at all. It’s a movie about how gentrification ruins everything and screws over people of color, but it isn’t really, because people of color are benefitting from gentrification, and the movie even comments on this, but also kind of says nothing about it.
It also weirdly doesn’t want you to root for any of its heroes, because every central character has an unambiguously unlikable “I am not a hero” moment. Candyman also almost becomes a movie about police violence, but decides to shy away from that and not say anything about it, because they want to make more of these. If there were a more concrete and clear social message, I may forgive this film a lot. But in the end, Candyman is less angry than I was hoping and doesn’t at all feel like a call to action or a rallying cry. It feels like kind of a shoulder shrug. There are the starts of some really good ideas here, but nobody really knows where to go with them. Nia DaCosta is a very interesting filmmaker who has a lot of interesting places to go moving forward, and I wish her better luck next time.