4 November 2021
While a powerfully emotive reflection on hideous white violence, too often Candyman sacrifices scares for social commentary making the film falls short of Get Out’s brilliance.
The film’s protagonist Anthony McCoy, a hip young visual artist, describes his work as “a literal depiction of symbolic violence.” The same could be said of Jordan Peele’s latest production. A far more obvious commentary than the story’s original iteration, at points the film hits audiences over the head with its somewhat confused allusions to the Black Lives Matter movement.
A spiritual sequel to the 1992 classic, Candyman tells the story of McCoy’s fatefully destructive obsession with the titular urban legend. Initially inspired the racially charged gentrification of Chicago’s Cabrini Green, a bee sting and ostensibly chance encounter with long-time resident William Burke soon materialises in a deadly relationship with an (understandably) vengeful spirit.
The confusingly discerning Candyman (he does not kill McCoy and his partner even after they recite the legendary incantation) reserves his bloody wrath for unsympathetic white folks. The manifestation of decades of brutal racism, Peele’s Candyman is an expression of repressed Black rage, an uncompromising avenger that enacts a particularly bloody form of justice.
Despite the heavy themes, Candyman is most engaging and effective in its rare comedic scenes. Get Out proved that comedy and social criticism are not mutually exclusive, and this sensibility makes its way into Candyman’s sly representation of pretentious, self-servingly woke characters of the white arts scene. In the words of Old Hollywood director Harold Clurmnan, “make them laugh…and while their mouths are open pour truth in.”
Didactic in its approach, Candyman ultimately disappoints in the horror stakes. The candyman’s kills are not particularly original or memorable, and Peele’s monster fails to match the scarily real performance of Tony Todd in the 1992 original. That being said, the film is still frightening, albeit in a less supernatural way. Audiences are confronted with the very real threat of ultraviolent law enforcement borne from society’s insidious white supremacy with tales of cyclical torture and degradation of America’s black communities. And despite Candyman’s flaws, this element does leave a lasting impression. “Say his name,” the film’s tagline implores. If only the film itself was as scary as the true horror of 2021’s race relations.
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