Sunday, 31 October 2021

Candyman (2021) - Movie Review

Now that lockdown conditions are easing, and I’m done with research for some upcoming FilmInk write-ups, it’s time to start my maddened scramble to catch up on the films that are out in cinemas right now. And we’re starting with a film that, going into it, I wasn’t expecting much from. Not to say I was dreading it or anything, but the original Candyman isn’t something I hold a lot of fondness for. It’s an interesting take on the slasher formula, and its exploration of urban legends certainly scratched my storytelling itches, but I could either way on the prospect of a new follow-up to it, even considering the talent involved. However, now having watched it, I have to admit that I can vibe with this a lot easier than I did with the original.

Not to say that this is a drastic change-up from the original, shinier production values notwithstanding. It still carries the same folkloric and ethereal tone as Bernard Rose’s original, helped by composer Robert A. A. Lowe continuing the minimalist drones that Philip Glass brought to the production. Rather than being any kind of switch-up in terms of aesthetics, it’s more of a flipped perspective on it, something the film primes the audience for with its mirrored production logos at the start (yes, the video file wasn't corrupted, and the projectionist didn't fuck up; that was an intentional choice). Add to that the outside shots, which make the audience look down at the sky, and it creates an emphasis on different perspectives that works great as a setup for the film both visually and textually.

Speaking of the text, the way Nia DaCosta, Jordan Peele, and Win Rosenfeld expand on the mythos of the Candyman not only adds a lot of texture to the original story (and this new one by proxy), but most if not all of the additions feel like they were always meant to be attached to this idea. Shifting the main character’s perspective from a white woman looking in to a black man looking around helps smooth things out, but from the historical context (the only thing that survived from the initial attempts at sequelization), the recontextualising of the bees that follow Candyman around, right down to continuing how the first film ended with the recursive nature of modern myths, everything here is almost second-nature when put next to the original text.

As for the race commentary (y’know, that thing that people love pretending wasn’t in the first film at all?), a lot of it comes in the form of commenting on the nature of Black art, with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Anthony serving as the outsider in a very commercialised and white space of art appreciation. It taps into similar comments as Velvet Buzzsaw, particularly in how sensationalised death becomes another commodity when it comes to art, only given a booster shot by highlighting the hypocrisy in white people questioning the motives of a Black man wanting to turn the history of his own environment into artistic expression. The 27-year interim resulting in the Cabrini-Green projects going full gentrified adds to that effect.

But the thing that really got my attention with this one is how it takes on a meta aspect when put in conjunction with the original, especially when keeping its comments on art and even the ultimate plan of the main villain(?) into account. This is something that goes back to notions I’ve discussed in past reviews like The Kid Who Would Be King about how myths survive largely through being retold over and over, usually with new material added to it with each iteration.

And oddly enough, it’s done for the same reason here as it was in TKWWBK: To reflect the experiences and ideals of a new generation. Through the added world-building on offer (aided by some beautiful shadow puppetry courtesy of Manual Cinema), both the film and the characters within it seek to redefine who Candyman is. He’s still the product of generational and institutional racism, but in the spirit of horror cinema taking the idea of the monstrous Other and turning it into something worth championing, he is turned into a spirit of retribution against those who created him and all those before him. A creature with a true purpose that, reflecting how the slasher himself has gone down in pop culture legend, represents something morbidly empowering. He is the urban legend as the only bringer of justice these people have.

Much like with Halloween 2018, this is a decades-removed follow-up that refines and expands on what made the original so beloved, to the point where the sheer existence of the follow-up itself becomes part of the film’s larger ideas concerning art and how storytelling reflects and shapes society. Strictly as a horror film, it is very effective and quite likely to make more skittish audiences keep checking out of the corner of their eye for any reflective surfaces nearby. But as an artistic statement, as something meant recontextualise but also bolster and strengthen a classic work, I am quite impressed with how well it turned out, and it shows Monkeypaw Productions to be a haven for Black horror that can succeed beyond just what Peele himself directs. Nia DaCosta deserves major props for what she’s created here.

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