It was never about the candy, was it?
Candyman is a horror remake from Jordan Peele's studio, Monkeypaw Productions, also produced and co-written by Jordan Peele (Get Out, Us), and directed by Nia DaCosta (Little Woods). I cannot say I've seen the original film from 1992, so I can't speak on how it compares, or if it expands on the mythology, etc. But I can say that this is a very solid, lean, effective and stylistic film which I believe works so well due to Nia DaCosta's slick direction. There are specific stylistic, visual, and unique directorial choices in this film which gives it a flair and a sharpness to it which lets it stand out above other run-of-the-mill horror flicks. This film pays reverence to the original while updating it with a modern, contemporary twist. I'd like to imagine the themes from the original are what make it still relevant to this day, making it timely but molded to fit our current state of affairs. The screenplay is tight, making the narrative momentum swift. The scares are spread out, giving the story time to breathe and the moments earned. Now, let's dive a bit deeper into what specifically made this film work.
Nia DaCosta’s Direction
As I alluded to, Candyman succeeds mostly on the smart direction by Nia DaCosta. I was impressed by her stylistic choices and the way she decided to shoot scenes. She gives us another perspective and some of the kills were shot in ways I had not seen before. There's one scene in particular (minor spoilers) in which she primarily uses mirrors (which is a big theme in this) and an outside perspective to view these kills. The way she worked in tandem with her DP John Guleserian to shoot, specifically the scares, the kills, and the closeups was definitely a standout and incredibly effective. I loved the way she and John would occupy the frame from scene to scene, shot to shot. I also enjoyed how DaCosta would feed us exposition. Typically, exposition in film is boring and we want to move on and get to the good stuff, but the way it was presented to us in this film was visually satisfying and narratively intriguing. DaCosta made sure to pace the film well by spacing out the scares and kills, and the buildup to them was always important and the moments were therefore earned. It's doubly amazing to me how this is only DaCosta's second major feature film and it feels like she's at the top of her craft, here.
I had referenced the cinematography in the direction section, but it's worth mentioning again, and diving into again. As stated, the film was shot by John Guleserian and I have to say that I was impressed, especially since I am not familiar with his work. From what I can gather, it's definitely a departure from his previous works, and it's certainly a welcome one. I kind of alluded to this before, but John occupies the frame so well throughout and he shot scenes in ways that I had not experienced in films past. I loved his unique ability to find a new perspective and allow us to experience horror cinema in a profoundly refreshing way. The use of mirrors, closeups, and depth of field in this film were astonishing and breathtaking. John moves the camera in ways that left me in awe and simultaneously left me uncomfortable, which is honestly exactly what you want from this genre. The cinematography of Candyman guided us through the experience and that's exactly what it was: a true horror experience.
The themes of the film are what drive home the horror and bring us a satisfying execution of the premise. I would like to imagine that the original film bore some of the same, if not all, themes of gentrification, police brutality, and systemic racism writ large. While it felt at times some of the themes were a little half-baked, these themes were sprinkled enough throughout that the point was driven home by the end with its shocking while simultaneously thrilling conclusion. Peele, DaCosta and her team were able to seamlessly weave in these themes which carried us through and effectively nailed down its purpose while not sacrificing character, horror, or plot. DaCosta's choice to have the horror and the theme of art and artistry tied in with the sociopolitical themes was an excellent choice and actually worked out quite well. The theme of gentrification was abundantly clear throughout and was also explored nicely through visuals and locales. Quite possibly what was most effective was tying in art with the protagonist and inevitably his arc became clear in the end with the climactic ending and the swift resolution. All in all, these themes were worked in without being too on-the-nose, which is exceedingly difficult to achieve these days.
While this entire review probably felt rather glowing, unfortunately I have to get to the complaints. The film could have done well with more development of characters, particularly with our protagonist. It felt like character building was a little skimped on to jump right into the horror and into the themes. Candyman also had missed opportunities to flesh out the story more, as I felt we arrived at the climactic moment in the third act a little too quickly. My wish is that if we had a little more time with our main character and that we had not leapt from the 2nd act to the third so swiftly, we might have arrived at a more well-earned conclusion. The film at times also felt a little too predictable, as I was pretty much able to guess what was about to happen next from scene to scene throughout its entirety. While I have all these complaints and they might feel significant, I still believe that the film is so well made and thoroughly entertaining and satisfying, that it's really just minor in the grand scheme of things. I feel that the film still succeeds at a high level, it just could have reached greatness in my eyes had the plot had more time to develop. The film is more than worth seeing and will still be one of the best horror experiences you'll have all year.
Candyman is a wide theatrical release and is available wherever cinemas are safely opened.