With an obvious love for the original film, writer/producer Jordan Peele’s (“Get Out”) “Candyman” is a credible continuation and makes the hook-handed boogeyman timely for the 21st century (which is exactly what you want a sequel/reboot to do). Do you have to see the original “Candyman” to enjoy the new one? No, but you’ll appreciate it more if you do.
For the uninitiated, Candyman is a character created by horror author/director Clive Barker (“Hellraiser”) from his story “The Forbidden.” A 19th Century portrait artist, Candyman is murdered by a mob for an affair with a white girl. Hacking off his hand and replacing it with a hook, the mob covers Candyman with honey and stakes him to be stung to death by killer bees.
Those not into the genre may not have their minds changed, but fans of “Candyman” can expect a sweet treat.
Becoming an urban legend to explain murders in the Cabrini-Green housing projects of Chicago, 1992’s original had grad student Helen (Virginia Madsen) investigating the myth only to discover Candyman was real. Conjured by saying his name five times in her reflection, Helen not only brings Candyman back to butcher new victims but is framed by Candyman as the killer herself- Helen blacks out and awakens blood-covered at the scene. Caught and committed, Helen escapes to stop Candyman from sacrificing an infant he’s kidnapped from Cabrini.
Peele’s “Candyman” continues 30 years after Helen’s encounter with evil. Yahya Abdul Mateen II plays Anthony, a struggling painter whose girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) supports him and gets his work seen in Chicago art galleries. Anthony’s art is uninspired until he hears the Candyman myth told by Brianna’s brother Troy (Nathann Stewart-Jarrett) – it seems Anthony and Brianna live in the now-gentrified Cabrini area where Candyman once roamed. Fascinated by the urban legend, Anthony builds a gallery show around the myth and includes a mirrored art piece in his collection entitled “Say My Name,” asking patrons to say ‘Candyman’ five times as they gaze at the glass. Oops.
As people (including Anthony) begin reciting his name, Candyman appears to make others disappear. The bloodied bodies begin piling up and Chicago is stricken with the ‘Say My Name’ serial killer. It’s now Anthony’s turn to investigate and, with the help of elder Cabrini resident/Candyman scholar Burke (Colma Domingo), send the boogeyman back to where he belongs.
Good twists, rooted in the original film, lie in store. More impressive is Peele (and co-writers Win Rosenfeld and Nia DaCosta) making Candyman current. In an era of urban upheaval and discrimination against displaced families, the movie gives Candyman a relevant place amid the cries of ‘Black Lives Matter.’
Directed by DaCosta, the shots are staged with a sure hand. Whether following reflections as Candyman stalks to slash, off-screen murders made visible through mirror images or a high rise murder made more gruesome by a gradual camera zoom back to include the skyline, she’s a director to watch.