REVIEW: CANDYMAN (2021, Universal Pictures)

Say his name five times and he will appear. Candyman returns to the big screen in Nia DaCosta (Top Boy, The Marvels, Little Woods) new reimagining, co-written by Jordan Peele (Us, Get Out). The new film is a direct sequel to the 1992 original of the same name and brings us back to the Chicago neighbourhood where the urban legend of Candyman began…

Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a painter looking for fame and success in the local art circuit. He lives with his partner in a gentrified Cabrini Green apartment unaware of the full history of the area and its urban legend (Candyman) but is curious to find out more. He decides to embark on a project to bring the story of Candyman to life through a series of paintings for his exhibition on the hope of getting his big break but he is unaware of the consequences his art will bring.

The latest Candyman film pulls together a lot of the source material from the original film but it is a modernisation with a fresh tone and direction. The structure is completely different to what you might expect. Philip Glass’s classical score is long gone and replaced by urban music which poses the first issue; atmosphere. Candyman 2021 is very much a flat film in terms of atmosphere, there is very little tension for most of the film and it suffers from a disjointed structure. Candyman was famous for its urban gothic atmosphere and nail biting tension, but you’d be hard to find much horror in the first hour of the new film.

Candyman is a new breed of horror which focuses on storytelling over scares but sadly it is too comfortable and safe to watch. The 1992 original was full of unforgettable scary moments, the 1995 sequel Candyman: Farewell To The Flesh had a high kill count and tons of gore, while the lesser regarded Candyman 3: Day of the Dead (1999) still had its shock moments. Sadly, age ratings play a big factor. The first 3 films from the 90’s were all 18 rated slasher films whereas the new Candyman is barely a 15 certificate and it shows. Marketing a film to an audience who weren’t even born when the first 3 films were released is risky and ludicrous. Luckily, the new film has its own charm and is entertaining and solid in its own way.

If we remove comparisons to the previous films in the franchise there is a lot to love with the new adaptation. The introduction of shadow puppet scenes for flashbacks and re-telling the original film story is a stroke of genius and looked amazing on the big screen. The race related social commentary was very well written and relevant in today’s climate, albeit lacking the hard hitting effect that Spike Lee delivers. The acting throughout the whole cast was excellent and there was plenty of witty humour to lighten the mood.

The biggest mistake this film makes is it doesn’t show us enough violence or gore, we are shielded from it until the climatic ending which is a real shame. A perfect example of this is the bathroom scene in the school, we hear more than we see and it felt like we were being robbed of seeing violence. Also, Candyman’s trademark hook to the spine and stomach gutting kill scenes of the old films were strangely replaced by lazy throat slitting which just didn’t have the same impact or shock factor.

Despite its flat tone and lack of tension, I was gripped by the story and couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. The plot is superb, with plenty of red herrings and twists. There is no doubt they intended for a redirection in the tone of the film, they achieved that but I really missed the way the original film made me feel. I didn’t leave the cinema unhappy, I just felt disappointed that the film watered its content down so much that it felt barely a shadow of the original film.

Candyman is a fun and interesting sequel which links up well with the original film in terms of its story but it is a different beast in terms of its tone. If you are familiar with the original films you are likely to know where the plot is heading within the first half an hour. If you are new to the franchise, I strongly recommend you watch the original film first before booking a trip to the cinema. The lack of tension can be forgiven for the way the plot traverses in the last third, taking us to dark places and subject matter.

Candyman is an interesting reimagining of the story which extends its legacy but leaves us wanting more. Sadly, the new sequel is sugar coated to the point where it feels more thriller than horror but it finds its feet in the second half and finishes strong with an unforgettable ending. The new film is a nice way to reignite the franchise, hopefully we will see more sequels on the back of this that will sting more.

Score: 3/5