Candyman (2021)

A Chicago artist (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) spirals into madness after discovering the urban legend of Candyman, getting horribly stung by a bee and inexplicably neglecting to go to waspital.

Jordan Peele and Nia DaCosta’s sequel removes the white gaze from the 1992 classic about the hook-handed mirror-dweller summoned by saying Candyman five times, but loses a great deal of substance, scariness and sense of place, laying on its politics with a brush so thick it smears the narrative. Rather than starting with a story on which to hook its themes, DaCosta takes the mirrored approach of leading with its messages, fumbling the storylines like a hook-handed juggler.

That is not to fault the ideas themselves, concerning the sting of gentrification and white exploitation of black trauma. Sadly the slight plot fails to explore these timely topics and feels more muddled than a hypnotist’s pick n mix. For starters setting the film in the art world seems an odd choice, making the dialogue annoyingly academic and taking us aesthetically away from the grimy graffiti of Bernard Rose’s organic original, ignoring the community at the heart of the story.

Then there’s the problem of not really having a protagonist, initially following the artist before switching to his girlfriend (Teyonah Parris) in the movie’s confusing closing moments. Disconnected scenes of people summoning Candyman are crowbarred in despite being such a small part of the first film, which is also recapped multiple times across the short duration, leaving little room for proper development and ending up incoherent, insubstantial and incomplete.

There are some interesting stylistic choices, such as the use of shadow puppets to illustrate the endless backstory and having the Candyman only appear in mirrors. This time he preys on arrogant white people, a reclamation and oversimplification of the Clive Barker character made famous by the great Tony Todd. Like the forgotten sequels its best move is to reuse Philip Glass’ idiosyncratic score, adding credence to the notion that this bee-like franchise stung once and then died.

It is never good when a character levels a criticism that applies to the movie they’re in, and here someone says: “It’s a pretty literal approach, not much room for audience interpretation.” Overstated yet underdeveloped, Candyman says the same thing much more than five times, updating the original’s hook but missing the ambiguity, the psychology, the horror.

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