The new “Candyman” is both a sequel and a restart. Like the original 1992 film, it is set in Chicago and focuses on the site of the Cabrini-Green housing project, which was seen as a gang-infested horror swarm in the earlier film but is now largely depicted in its current form, demolished and largely replaced by new, gentrified apartments. Based on the same premise of an urban legend founded in this housing project, a killer named Candyman called by saying his name in a mirror five times – and with several of the same key characters, the new film plants a solid novelty foundation under this story. The continuation is the story of an artist whose work is above all an exploration of his community and its collective memory and who through his art reveals a history that consumes and destroys him. This narrative, which also encompasses race and class politics and the historical themes on which the original story depends, makes the new film – directed by Nia DaCosta, who co-wrote the script with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld – a lot more thoughtful . more captivating and challenging than the original film. So, do the style elements with which DaCosta realizes it, which both fit into the story and add piquant points of mystery.
The film centers on a wealthy black couple in their thirties, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), who live in a duplex apartment on the former site of Cabrini-Green on the north side of town . Anthony, who was a toddler (and a victim of Candyman) in the original film, is now an artist with a studio upstairs in the apartment. Brianna, a curator, works for Clive (Brian King), an art dealer whose gallery shows Anthony’s art. But Anthony is stuck at a dead end at the beginning of the film: He has been invited to exhibit at Clive’s upcoming group show, but has no new work to offer. Then Brianna’s brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), who comes to dinner with his partner Grady (Kyle Kaminsky), tells the story of the Candyman legend and the white social scientist who covered it – basically he was telling the story of the film from 1992 – and inspires Anthony to write a piece about the character.
The new film begins with a new backstory – a foreword set in 1977 on the same housing project in which another man, Sherman Fields (played by Michael Hargrove) allegedly terrorizes neighborhood kids with candy he slipped into razor blades. When a child named William is sent by his mother to the laundry room in the basement, Sherman – a tall and stout man with a hook instead of a hand – emerges from a hole in the wall of the dilapidated and neglected facility and offers William candy. It turns out that Sherman is innocent of the charges – but the police pursue him and kill him anyway, and this murder, not Helen’s sociological thesis of gang violence, turns out to be the source of the legend.
This is what Anthony finds out when he goes to the ruins of Cabrini-Green and has the chance to meet the adult William (played by Colman Domingo with great urgency and authority), who frees himself from his eyewitness account of the attack on Sherman – from the “real” face of fear “on the sound of the police. But in the course of their recurring encounters, William – practically a hidden prophet – provides Anthony with a hieratic word about the Candyman story that ties in with the 1992 film.
This earlier film portrays an original source of the myth: a 19th century black artist named Daniel Robitaille who had an affair with a white woman after he was hired to paint her portrait. Her father hired thugs to torture and kill him. In the 1992 film, he returns as Candyman, while in the new film, William expands and clarifies the myth: Far from identifying Candyman with Robitaille or even Sherman, he reveals that these men are just two in a litany of Black Victims of police brutality and racist vigilante justice – and that Candyman stands for them all. Far from dealing with the indiscriminate violence of Cabrini Green residents against one another, the Candyman story is the story of widespread, unlawful, and wanton violence against black people. The ongoing, unredeemed sum of the agony of these innumerable victims culminates in myth – and, more importantly, in the reality that myth represents – and Anthony, armed with that knowledge, expands his art with an obsessive fervor that far exceeds that Place of myth goes beyond particularities.
I’m always careful not to spoil the ending, but with the new “Candyman” I’m suspicious of even exposing elements of the setup that have their own surprises. When it’s time for Clive’s group show (which, by the way, is called “A Fickle Sonance,” the name of a 1961 album by the great saxophonist Jackie McLean), Anthony submits an interactive work based on the Candyman story. for titling “Say My Name”, a sharp double reference to the killer’s subpoena and the #SayHerName campaign, which draws attention to female victims of police violence. Unsurprisingly, the project is misunderstood and ridiculed by a prominent white art critic (Rebecca Spence) attending the show. However, when the work unexpectedly becomes famous for its real power to shed real blood, she reconsiders. (Anthony takes revenge anyway.) In his newfound fame, he also succumbs to the temptations of artistic vanity and demagogy.
As in the previous film, Candyman gets his main features – his hook prosthesis and surrounding swarm of bees – from Robitaille, whose attackers are said to have chopped off his hand and smeared it with honey so that he would be stung to death. (Both characters are played by Tony Todd again.) In the new film, Anthony’s work is attracted to the legend and character of Candyman; he is shocked that he has other affinities for Robitaille and thus also for the murderer. (The theme leads to some of the bloodiest details of the movie’s body horror.) Meanwhile, Anthony also unveils a family secret – a calculated silence that, like a Greek tragedy, has led him through life on a blind course of self-ignorance, and that when it comes to him comes close, devastates him. The symbolic elements of this new “Candyman” have a raw and angry force – the painful witnessing and the burden of unbearable, unspeakable knowledge and its silence through the oppressive indifference of (white) society as a whole. The spirit of vengeance and its high moral price; the danger that artistic expression will carelessly lapse into a ruthless self-centeredness; the inescapable tension between personal relationships and blind artistic drive: DaCosta implements these themes with fine filigree inflected details, both in her filmic compositions and in the performances she creates.
At certain moments, the actors permeate the texture of the film with their own memory power, when Anthony, sniffing around the ruins of Cabrini-Green, hears a police siren and jumps back to hide behind a wall, or when Brianna has a strange warm bite After Anthony’s sudden publicity, she met another black curator, Danielle Harrington (Christiana Clark), or in the unwavering, agonizing presence of Anthony’s mother Anne-Marie (played, as in the 1992 film, by Vanessa Williams). The film is strongest when DaCosta unleashes images of edgy, rhythmic power, the most striking of which are inspired by scenes that incorporate the film’s primary visual metaphor, mirrors. In one scene, the famous comedic gesture of “Duck Soup” – two characters facing each other in the mirror, perfectly imitating their gestures – becomes a ghostly, eerie extravaganza. In another scene of a risky confrontation, Brianna discovers the extraordinary practical effects of the legend’s monstrous power – and its ability to control it.
But for all its symbolic weight and sharp-eyed flair, “Candyman” has a scatter shot quality that has to do with the apparently inevitable demands of its genre source. The horror film combination of limited tension and calculated gore prevents some of the themes from fully unfolding and leaves narrative loose ends dangling. A film about an artist inevitably reflects the artists who made it; in the new “Candyman” the effect is doubled through the presence of two artists in the story and doubled again through the central importance of mirrors. But DaCosta’s sharp-edged and inventive direction does not break with the furious subjectivity and specificity that her powerful subjects demand. Even the extreme subjective features of the film seem a bit abstract and impersonal. His self-questioning of the demands and dangers of artistic politics does not bend the mirror back completely to look behind the camera. Still, the speculative imagination, the finely stylized details and the hectic urgency of the film suggest the intolerably distant solutions to the ongoing crises of racial politics in America and the destructive pressures they also exert on the artistic conscience. It is the work of energetic, furious pessimism.
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