To quote Staind, "it's been a while" since Candyman last graced movie theater screens. After debuting in 1992 with the original feature of the same name, the character appeared in two sequels, only one of which even made it to movie theaters. Decades after last being seen in a theatrical environment, Candyman has been brought back to life thanks to director Nia DaCosta, who also wrote the script alongside Win Rosenfeld and Jordan Peele. The result is a production with its messy qualities, particularly when it gets into its home stretch. But the good news is that the overall movie is still a chilling horror title that justifies returning to the world of Candyman.
Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a visual artist in need of a new source of artistic inspiration. While his girlfriend, Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), is ascending in the world of art, McCoy seems to be stuck in the past. But hope emerges once he learns about the myth of Candyman, which was popularized in the nearby Cabrini-Green projects, where the original Candyman largely took place. Informed of tales from the past by William Burke (Colman Domingo), which concern Black men who've been given the name "Candyman", McCoy begins to get inspired. But new art isn't the only thing his newfound fascination has created. The supernatural being Candyman is also unleashed once again and while he's stacking up a body count, McCoy grows more and more enamored with this mythic figure.
Many classic horror movies, dating back to the days of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, work best when viewed through the lens of dreamlike logic. So it is with Candyman, a film that proves quite effective in how often it feels detached from reality. A scene of McCoy, gripped with fear, just wandering through a subway station while the camera captures him head-on or the same character seeing his reflection as a former incarnation of the Candyman both, like any dream, straddle the line between reality and fantasy. There's a chilling sense of uncertainty informing these moments as the unusual imagery happening on-screen feels as detached from our own control as the worst of our nightmares.
It's a fitting extension of one of Candyman's core themes, which explores the way myths and reality fuse together. The stories of Candyman sound like yarns told around a campfire, but the reality component comes in how they're inspired by chilling instances of unarmed Black people being murdered by white people. Events ripped from the headline tether the stylized moments of eerie ambiguity to the real world. This storytelling approach informs Nia DaCosta's superb eye for visuals. Candyman is just packed with imagery as ornately staged as they are eerie thanks to how DaCosta realizes that a thoughtful piece of camerawork can be just as unsettling as rivers of blood.
A recurring visual motif leaning on the camera zooming in and out, all while emphasizing the larger unforgiving world the characters of Candyman inhabit, proves quietly unnerving and is one of many visual flourishes that ensure that Candyman doesn't just look like a rehash of the original 1992 movie. This sense of control in the camerawork continues in the scenes of carnage, in which DaCosta finds creative ways of keeping certain instances of violence mostly off-screen...mostly. Even more laidback scenes don't eschew thoughtful instances of cinematography, as seen by a conversation between Cartwright and a potential employer that uses a slow zoom in on Cartwright to highlight how trapped she feels by her past.
Unfortunately, Candyman's considerate nature stumbles for its big climax. An awkward flashback, a thematically messy handling of the figure of Candyman, and a constant sense that we're just repeating the beats of the first Candyman's ending are the biggest, but not the only, flaws here. This finale isn't a total disaster, thanks to committed performances from the main cast and DaCosta's consistently impressive direction. However, Candyman's script eschews offering satisfying conclusions to the various main characters in favor of a big set-piece aiming to feel timely but it all just feels shoehorned in. The fact that the last shot is of some welcome but clumsily executed fan service just exacerbates the underwhelming nature of this finale.
Still, the shortcomings in this ending as well as other flaws throughout the rest of the movie, like didactic pieces of dialogue, can't overwhelm the good parts of Candyman. Like a scary dream you can't shake once you wake up, the most successful parts of Candyman prove so effective because of a commitment to reality and good old fashioned creepiness. It took a few decades, but Candyman finally got a worthy sequel.