The newest Jordan Peele project continues his thought-provoking horror
The best horror has always been able to use its premise as an innuendo for a greater social critique or message. “Dracula” was a portrayal of xenophobia of Eastern Europeans, zombies were an amalgamation of the panic over AIDs and the consumerist society, and “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” was a commentary on class differences. In Hollywood, horror has finally gotten around to commenting on systemic racism, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Get Out (2017). That film’s director, Jordan Peele, has written the newest entry in this racism-horror subgenre with a sequel to the 90s film Candyman (1992) confusingly also titled Candyman (2021).
The new Candyman ignores the many sequels to the 1992 film and takes place thirty years after the first installment. We follow Chicago artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who is struggling to find inspiration. He falls down the rabbit hole of his gentrified neighborhood and the urban legend of the murder ghost named Candyman. This begins to inspire his work, but it appears to have awakened dormant demons.
This new Candyman is co-written and produced by Peele, but is directed by indie darling Nia DaCosta. DaCosta immediately makes an impact with her inventive and gripping visual aesthetic. While the film can lean into gore and violence for shocks at times, DaCosta does well to restrain herself at certain moments, choosing to keep certain actions off camera, and focusing on an unconventional spot instead. This can be a wide shot of a faraway Highrise where we see a murder occur a la Rear Window (1954), or glimpses from underneath a bathroom stall. DaCosta does well to trust her viewers to fill in the blanks and knows that the imagination can do a far better job at conjuring images than any special effects.
Curiously, neither the original Candyman or any of its sequels had placed a black protagonist in the forefront, despite the main villain and supposed urban legend coming from the black community. Under Peele and DaCosta this is finally rectified, exploring the myth of Candyman within such cultural bounds. There is an exploration as to the background of the villain that had previously been ignored, seeing it as an incarnation of black trauma and rage. Peel and DaCosta also bring about a curious meta exploration of the responsibilities that art has in informing and challenging viewers on such issues. It is with this latter aspect that the film perhaps lets some hopeful viewers down.
DaCosta and Peele refrain from leaning in too much, either towards the horror or social commentary sides, so that it leaves certain viewers wanting more of both. This is especially apparent in the finale, which appears to devolve into a B-movie resolution in comparison with the patient build-up and mystery of the rest of the film. Peele’s use of comedy to give a further dimension to his characters is effective, but the film’s conclusion fails to capitalize on such credit, leaving many viewers feeling empty. This is especially frustrating given the great performances from rising star Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Paris as his art curator girlfriend. Both actors have great chemistry, but hardly share the screen together.
While many films could use a trimming down of their runtime, I wonder how much footage was cut from Candyman’s third act. The finale seems too slim and rushed in relation with the careful pace and curation of the rest of the film. This is the moment where added time and patience would have done wonders for an explosive and effective conclusion. While we wait for a potential Director’s Cut, however, this Candyman is still an effective and thought-provoking horror film, which continues to elevate Peele as the creative horror mind and spells a good future for DaCosta in the director’s chair.