Over the last several years there has been a trend towards so-called “elevated” horror, thanks to hit movies like Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Robert Eggers’ The Witch, and Ari Aster’s Hereditary. There’s a little bit of an arrogance to the phrasing, somehow implying that other genre movies weren’t really “about” anything other than cheap, violent thrills. Sure, that’s the case sometimes, but there is a long history of films using horror imagery to examine a variety of deeper themes. The original 1992 Candyman from writer / director Bernard Rose (working from a story by Clive Barker) was one such film, with a primary focus on the power that myths can hold over us with some slighter points about racism, elitism, and the way cities used urban planning to enforce a type of segregation on their citizens. This latest movie, directed by Nia DaCosta and written by her along with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld is even more interested in mixing messages with the mayhem and does so in a really compelling way, but also seems to have largely forgotten to be scary.
Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is an up-and-coming painter who has just moved into a new condo with his art-dealer girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Paris). When her brother Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) and his partner Grady (Kyle Kaminsky) come to visit they wind up discussing how their neighborhood was built on the grounds of the old Cabrini Green housing project that much of the original film took place in. Anthony finds the story especially compelling and begins digging further into the stories surrounding the place which of course leads him to learn about the legend of Candyman. He starts incorporating the mythology into his art and then people start dying.
There is quite a lot going on here, and the movie could have probably benefitted from a little more time to sort it all out. Gentrification, police violence, and racism are all brought up if not really reckoned with in a fully satisfying way, but the primary point seems to be about how past traumas can ripple through time, having tragic effects even years after they occurred. Abdul-Mateen is excellent in the lead role but the real star here is DaCosta’s direction. This is a consistently gorgeously framed and shot movie, with several moments of absolutely stunning cinematography (major props to John Guleserian in what looks like the first project he’s done that really highlights what he’s capable of). But despite everything it has going for it, aside from a few moments during the finale, this just isn’t a frightening film, which is a fairly big problem for a horror movie. It’s hard not to recommend it anyway though, as it’s otherwise a pretty great piece of art. ★★★★
Available in theaters, for online rental, and coming soon on DVD.
Rated R for bloody horror violence and language including some sexual references.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor