By Alec Toombs
Full Admission: I hadn’t seen Bernard Rose’s “Candyman” in full prior to the other night. Sure, I’d seen bits and pieces of it on cable, but never the whole enchilada. I liked but didn’t love the movie. Tony Todd has a great presence as the titular “villain” powered primarily by his booming voice. (My wife Jamie astutely noted that he sounds like Frank Welker voicing Megatron on “Transformers.”) Virginia Madsen’s good in the movie too. Xander Berkeley is sleazily entertaining. I really liked DeJuan Guy as Jake. Rose is such a terrible actor that he makes Quentin Tarantino look like Laurence Olivier by comparison. Philip Glass’ score is killer. The commentary concerning race in this country is welcome but somewhat limited.
Nia DaCosta’s “Candyman” (now playing exclusively in theaters) is the rare sequel that’s not only better than its predecessor, but elevates its forebear simply by existing. I was genuinely surprised by how directly “Candyman” sequelizes the 1992 original while simultaneously being very much its own thing. DaCosta’s made a movie that has a lot on its mind. It’s equal parts funny, angry and scary. It delves into gentrification, police brutality, the exploitation of black artists by white critics and consumers and a litany of other topics. An awful lot is crammed into the movie’s scant 91 minute runtime. This is one of the rare instances where I feel the picture would’ve benefitted by being longer to further extrapolate on all its themes and subplots.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II of HBO’s “Watchmen” stars as Anthony McCoy, a talented Chicago-based artist who’s been in a bit of a creative rut. He shares a chic apartment in what used to be the Cabrini-Green housing project with his gallery director girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris, late of “WandaVision”), who’s footing the bills and has the means to further his career once inspiration strikes. Anthony receives guff about he and Brianna’s living situation from both her brother Troy (the hilarious Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) and his mother.
Inspiration comes in the form of Cabrini OG and laundromat owner William Burke (ace character actor Colman Domingo), who tells Anthony the tragic tale of Candyman. Looking to maintain his artistic relevance, Anthony uses the Candyman mythology as the basis for a series of paintings and an installation. Despite being energized and far more prolific than he’d been of late, Anthony’s works bring about a horrifying wave of violence, drive a wedge between he and Brianna and leave him teetering on the brink of insanity.
It’s insanely impressive that DaCosta made “Candyman” at the tender age of 31 and that it’s only her second feature. I meant to see her debut “Little Woods” at the Heartland International Film Festival a few years back, but didn’t get around to it. I’ll need to track it down on streaming ASAP and I’m hyped as hell for her Marvel Cinematic Universe debut “The Marvels” in 2022. She’s an incredibly exciting and assured new cinematic voice. She eats Dan Gilroy’s lunch in doing art horror by comparison to his stilted Netflix effort “Velvet Buzzsaw” and one ups Rose at every turn in making a “Candyman” movie.
There’s so much to dig here. The movie’s rife with Jeff Goldblum references what with its instances of “The Fly”-esque body horror and an awesome “Jurassic Park” quote. The primary cast is uniformly excellent. It’s rad to see Domingo and Parris reunited after having played father and daughter in Barry Jenkins’ brilliant and underrated “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The script by DaCosta, Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld is sharp and insightful. My only real quibbles are that I could’ve gone for more development of Domingo’s character and his story and a subplot concerning Brianna and Troy’s Dad should’ve been fleshed out further.
“Candyman” ultimately seems to suggest that Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, George Floyd and countless others are all Candymen. I’d love to see DaCosta or another promising young filmmaker of color make “Candymen” … and “Candyman” certainly gives ‘em the leeway to do so. I just sincerely wish this country would stop sequelizing the exploitation, marginalization, incarceration and eradication of its black citizens … a sentiment that the makers of “Candyman” undeniably echo.