Dare you say his name five times? Well, maybe the fifth film will be the charm, because summoning the spirit of the supernatural serial killer seems to be a tough ask. No-one is hotter in the horror cinema world right now than Jordan Peele, on the back of hits Get Out and Us, but even he seems to have struggled to find a clear through-line here. Is this a sequel, a reboot, or a riff on the urban legend of Candyman? Ninety minutes later, you’ll still be wondering…
With a script co-written by Peel, Nia DaCosta’s film at least picks a direction and goes for it. We’re still deep in the Chicago projects, the Cabrini-Green housing project featured in Bernard Rose’s original film, and there’s a few remarks on gentrification that resemble those provided the social context first time around. Visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) taps into the legend, but is Candyman real, or just a collective hallucination? Or could McCoy himself be the Candyman; is Candyman just a costume that gets worn by mortal individuals, like Santa Claus? McCoy’s art feeds on the myth, but when people start turning up dead in and around the art-gallery where McCoy’s work is exhibited, the artist begins to fear for his sanity….
Dacosta has got plenty of ideas to play with, but making a visceral horror movie isn’t one of them. There’s only a couple of set-pieces, one involving girls in a public toilet, and none of them lead to quite the expected blood-letting, or any dramatic tension. But there’s a lot of chat about art and legends, perhaps too much; like another wannabe horror revival, Suspiria, Candyman seems to rely far too much on advancing the subtext rather than the text, and the results fall flat. It’s cool to take a black character that was created by two white men and change the details, but somehow Candyman never looks like sticking the landing with any flair.
Cameos from Virginia Madsen and Tony Todd also play against type here; Madsen’s voice is heard on tapes McCoy plays, and Todd turns up in the final scene for a cameo. Neither appearance satisfies; Peele has a big idea, tying the Candyman mythos into issues concerning police brutality, but Dacosta seems more preoccupied with animated Babadook-style cut-scenes rather than creating a visceral story which grabs you by the throat.
Reasonably slick and well made, Candyman’s 2021 incarnation feels like marginal notes; the ideas are there, but the development is sorely lacking. The sense of dream logic in the first film simply isn’t here; the post-modern approach (aren’t we all Candyman? wasn’t Candyman inside us all along?) doesn’t go for much when the main character is largely off-screen, unthreatening and less interesting with every confusing detail of his story that gets revealed. Even starting the film with Sammy Davis Jr singing the Candyman song just feels like one more cultural reference that’s slavish rather than knowing.