Enough digital ink has already been spilled explaining the irritations and aura of disappointment surrounding 2021’s Candyman, and Vulture and Polygon have especially good breakdowns of the film’s weaknesses. I’m not going to better those critiques.
If I want movies as a whole to take anything away from this new Candyman, it’s this: Yes, sometimes you can’t trust your audience, but you just have to live with that.
More than anything else, it feels like this Candyman is what happens when filmmakers mature in an age full of thinkpieces on how some people think Skyler White is a bitch. It’s a film that tries to anticipate and foil any potential way someone might “like it wrong,” so it’s constantly getting in its own way. It elbows into the frame to bold and underline its statements, forcing its main characters to talk in such stilted cadences that it sounds like they’re building their dialogue out of individual tweets they want to go viral. They’re good tweets. They’re not good dialogue, however, because there’s no sense of conversation. They’re all aimed at an audience the movie holds in a kind of mild contempt.
2021’s Candyman is uncomfortable with any ambiguity it doesn’t specifically intend. The original movie has all kinds of rich, messy tensions and contradictions–Candyman preys on his own community, Helen is both sympathetic protagonist and intruder, and eroticism and murder and dread all intertwine–the new one treats these things as problems to be solved. They’re not; they’re open wounds that are even rawer and more hypnotizing and transformative than the slowly infecting, corrupting bee-sting Anthony McCoy gets on his hand. They’re what helped make the story immortal.
Now, they’re bullet-points to resolve, as if we need specific answers to every question. The movie takes the best and most dramatically effective approach to this with the issue of Candyman killing the primarily Black residents of Cabrini-Green. Here, the meta argument is at least staged out via one character’s in-story obsession, and it has some genuinely memorable payoff. The rest of the problems aren’t addressed with the same level of craft. The movie’s treatment of Anthony isn’t ambiguous, it’s just indecisive, and its uneven (and arguably inaccurate) criticism of him as a tourist isn’t counterbalanced by any real affection or empathy for him. It’s not interested in his inspiration, artistic obsession, his uncertainty over his own background, or the weight of his fading reputation as a wunderkind. It’s hard to say if the film cares about him at all.
Strangest of all, in this sequel to one of the most legendarily sexy horror films … how should we put this? This Candyman doesn’t fuck. In the original, Helen is unstoppably drawn to him, and so are we. Here, when Anthony McCoy starts growing dangerous, his girlfriend sensibly separates from him. It’s the right thing to do, but it also completely deadens the complex braid of attraction and fear that is at the heart of why this franchise has lasted in the first place.
Here, the true terror is being misread or–worse–enjoyed in the wrong way. Without such a tight, preventative stranglehold over its characters, narrative, and theme, this Candyman could have been incredible. As it is, the only part that really achieves greatness is the phenomenal cut-out art by Kara Walker, which completely ignores everything I’ve just said to find all the beauty and power of bold, stark contrasts where something either is or isn’t, so … there’s more than one route to profound artistic impact. Let’s just say that neither route features a douchey hipster quoting Jurassic Park while trying to escape being gutted by a hook-handed ghost.
Candyman is streaming on Amazon Prime.